Milliken v. Bradley: Background
School desegregation has been the subject of judicial scrutiny for over a century. The challenge of maintaining a diverse student body within each school building is complicated by various legal, social, political, and educational contexts. In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), the Court revisited the previously held separate-but-equal doctrine, finding that the separation of children by race was a deliberate violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While Brown abolished laws requiring or permitting segregated schools, it did not address de facto segregation until almost 20 years later in Keyes v. School District No. 1, Denver, Colorado (1973). Moreover, school desegregation was not uniformly implemented following the decision. Attempts to implement the promises of Brown created controversy in educational circles.
In light of Brown, two decades of civil rights legislation and judicial opinions ensued in an attempt to desegregate schools. The expansion of desegregation rights ended with the Supreme Court’s decision in Milliken I. In Milliken I, the school board in Detroit sought to remedy official acts of racial discrimination that were committed by both local officials and the state. The local board’s violations included the improper use of attendance zones, racially based transportation of school children, and improper use of grade structures. Michigan, through various agencies, acted directly to maintain the pattern of segregation in the Detroit schools. As a means of remedy, the board in Detroit sought to integrate students in the largely minority city schools with those in the surrounding metropolitan suburban schools by utilizing an interdistrict city-suburban desegregation remedy.