The Burger Court (1969–86)

Court Decisions

How did Milliken v. Bradley change the Court’s direction on school desegregation?

The Swann case involved the desegregation of one school district in Charlotte, North Carolina. In the Milliken case, a federal district court overseeing the case had approved of plans to desegregate the Detroit school system by imposing a multidistrict remedy. The plan would call for many suburban students to be moved to Detroit city schools and vice versa. The federal district court had implemented a plan that would affect several school districts that had not participated in de jure (segregation by statute or law) segregationist practices. Supporters of the plan argued that it was necessary to involve the suburban districts to achieve real desegregation to counter the effects of “white flight,” a phenomenon where many whites moved from larger cities to surrounding suburbs.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5–4 in Milliken v. Bradley that the desegregation plan was invalid because it imposed burdens on school districts that were operating as unitary school systems and engaging in no racial segregation. Burger wrote that “without an interdistrict violation and interdistrict effect, there is no constitutional wrong calling for an interdistrict remedy.” The ruling meant that many children in the suburbs did not have to be bused to the Detroit city schools and vice versa.


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Supreme Court Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App