A case study of North Carolina desegregation issues: influence patterns of federal and state courts and state statutes
Benfield, James Ernest
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Problem: This study sought to analyze the influence patterns among federal court decisions, state appellate court decisions, and state statutes pertaining to the desegregation of public schools in North Carolina. Sources of Data: The search for cases and statutes pertinent to this study required the use of the National Reporter System, American Digest System, American Law Reports, North Carolina Reports, American Jurisprudence, Corpus Juris Secundum, North Carolina General Statutes, and other legal bibliographical aids. Procedure: Each case was briefed, including the case citation, the date, the judge or judges, the situation, the decision, and the court opinion relative to the points of law. The cases were then arranged chronologically and the trends in the court decisions were identified. An attempt was made to compare the development of North Carolina law to trends which were detected in the Supreme Court's decisions in order to identify influence patterns among federal and state courts and state statutes. Major Findings: A trend in the United States Supreme Court's decisions from 1954 through 1973 was that the Court continually strengthened requirements for desegregating public school systems. In 1974, the Court broke this pattern when it ruled that an interdistrict remedy was not justifiable unless there was an interdistrict constitutional violation. During the different periods of this study, the trend in the Supreme Court's decisions was reflected in the lower courts and in the North Carolina Legislature in various ways. Conclusions: Based on the facts as presented in this study, the following were drawn: 1. In an effort to circumvent the 1954 Brown decision the North Carolina Legislature enacted the Pupil Assignment Act. 2. The State Supreme Court, the federal district courts in North Carolina, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to rule for plaintiffs in desegregation cases who had not exhausted the administrative remedies provided under the state statute. 3. The Supreme Court's reluctance to issue specific guidelines for desegregating school systems indirectly influenced the lower courts to be more lenient in their desegregation orders. 4. In 1961 and 1962, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decisions of the district courts in North Carolina in cases where the Negro plaintiffs had exhausted their administrative remedies. 5. The Supreme Court's impatience with delays in desegregating public schools influenced the lower courts to scrutinize desegregation plans more closely during the period from 1964 through 1967. 6. The Supreme Court's 1965 decisions, pertaining to faculty desegregation, influenced the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to begin to consider faculty desegregation. The Court of Appeals consistently reversed the district courts' decisions in cases where the lower courts continued to refuse to grant relief to Negro plaintiffs who complained of racially based faculty allocations and assignments. 7. The decisions of the Supreme Court, which required the elimination of segregated school systems at once, were, almost immediately, reflected in the decisions of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the federal district courts in North Carolina during the period from 1968 through 1971. 8. During the period from 1969 through 1972, an influence pattern developed in which the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decisions of the district courts in North Carolina and then the Supreme Court would uphold the district courts' rulings, thus, reversing the decisions of the Court of Appeals. 9. The Supreme Court's interpretation of its 1971 holding, in Swann, as placing limitations on the power of the district courts in fashioning remedies in school desegregation cases, influenced its decisions during the period from 1973 through 1974. 10. Very little influence and no influence pattern developed between federal and state courts from 1954 through 1974.
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