Milliken v. Bradley

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Milliken v. Bradley
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 27, 1974
Decided July 25, 1974
Full case name Milliken, Governor of Michigan, et al. v. Bradley, et al.
Citations 418 U.S. 717 (more)
94 S. Ct. 3112; 41 L. Ed. 2d 1069; 1974 U.S. LEXIS 94
Prior history Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
The Court held that "[w]ith no showing of significant violation by the 53 outlying school districts and no evidence of any interdistrict violation or effect," the district court's remedy was "wholly impermissible" and not justified by Brown v. Board of Education.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Burger, joined by Stewart, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist
Concurrence Stewart
Dissent Douglas
Dissent White, joined by Douglas, Brennan, Marshall
Dissent Marshall, joined by Douglas, Brennan, White
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974), was a significant United States Supreme Court case dealing with the planned desegregation busing of public school students across district lines among 53 school districts in metropolitan Detroit. It concerned the plans to integrate public schools in the United States following the Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) decision.

The ruling clarified the distinction between de jure and de facto segregation, confirming that segregation was allowed if it was not considered an explicit policy of each school district. In particular, the Court held that the school systems were not responsible for desegregation across district lines unless it could be shown that they had each deliberately engaged in a policy of segregation. The case did not expand on Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971), the first major Supreme Court case concerning school busing.


Educational segregation in the United States[edit]

Brown v. Board was a landmark ruling, but challenging to implement. The case also did not take into account many of the sources of segregation in the US, including an ongoing migration of blacks into cities but not suburbs, and policies and practices that barred non-whites from suburban housing. By the 1970s, many urban school districts had super-majorities of black students.[1] Educational segregation was therefore widespread, with informal racial barriers (i.e. "whites only") in the form of numerous thinly disguised practices that opposed blacks living in suburbs.


Detroit is one of the most segregated cities in the United States.[2][3] During the Great Migration, the city gained a large black population, which was excluded upon arrival from white neighborhoods. This exclusion was enforced by economic discrimination (redlining) as well as direct violence (destruction of property including arson and bombings, as well as direct assault).[4] Some of the discriminatory policies were changed in Detroit by public awareness and sensitivity to the national mood about civil rights, that began after World War II combined with growing black voting power in city precincts. The changes allowed blacks to move into additional neighborhoods in the City, but some neighborhoods resisted and for the most part little or no change of segregative practices occurred in the suburbs.

By the mid-70s, more than two-thirds of students in the Detroit school system were black.[1]


On August 18, 1970, the NAACP filed suit against Michigan state officials, including Governor William Milliken. The original trial began on April 6, 1971, and lasted for 41 days. The NAACP argued that although schools were not officially segregated (white only), the city of Detroit and the State as represented by its surrounding counties had enacted policies to increase racial segregation in schools. The NAACP also suggested a direct relationship between unfair housing practices (such as redlining) and educational segregation.[5]

District Judge Steven J. Roth held the State of Michigan as well as the school districts accountable for the segregation. The Sixth Circuit Court affirmed some of the decision, specifically the official segregation that had been practiced by the City's school district, but the Appeals Court withheld judgment on the relationship of housing segregation with education. The Court specified that it was the state's responsibility to integrate across the segregated metropolitan area.[6]

The accused officials appealed to the Supreme Court, which took up the case on February 27, 1974.[5]

Decision of the Court[edit]

The Supreme Court overturned the lower courts in a 5-to-4 decision, holding that school districts were not obligated to desegregate unless it had been proven that the lines were drawn with racist intent on the part of the districts. Thus, superficially arbitrary lines drawn by State agencies which produced segregated districts were not illegal.[1][7]

The Court held that "[w]ith no showing of significant violation by the 53 outlying school districts and no evidence of any interdistrict violation or effect," the district court's remedy was "wholly impermissible" and not justified by Brown v. Board of Education. The Court noted that desegregation, "in the sense of dismantling a dual school system," did not require "any particular racial balance in each 'school, grade or classroom.'" The Court agreed that the Constitutional rights of blacks had been violated by the City' school district; the segregative results involving suburban districts did not make suburban districts nor the State of Michigan responsible.[6]

The Court also emphasized the importance of local control over the operation of schools.


Justice Thurgood Marshall's dissenting opinion stated that:

School district lines, however innocently drawn, will surely be perceived as fences to separate the races when, under a Detroit-only decree, white parents withdraw their children from the Detroit city schools and move to the suburbs in order to continue them in all-white schools.[8]

Justice Douglas' dissenting opinion stated that:

"Today's decision ... means that there is no violation of the Equal Protection Clause though the schools are segregated by race and though the black schools are not only separate but inferior."
"Michigan by one device or another has over the years created black school districts and white school districts, the task of equity is to provide a unitary system for the affected area where, as here, the State washes its hands of its own creations."

Impact of the case[edit]

The Supreme Court's decision required the City of Detroit's school district to, in effect redistributed the relatively small number of white students more widely across the district to desegregate. According to Wayne State professor John Mogk, the decision also enabled the white flight that re-entrenched the city's segregation.[5] The Detroit Public Schools became even more disproportionately black over the next two decades (with 90% black students in 1987).[6]

This result reaffirmed the national pattern of city schools attended mostly by blacks, with surrounding suburban schools mostly attended by whites.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Taylor, William L. (March 1975). "Desegregating Urban School Systems After Milliken v. Bradley". Wayne Law Review 21 (3). 
  2. ^ Sugrue, Thomas J. (26 March 2011). "A Dream Still Deferred". New York Times. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  3. ^ Darden, Joe; Rahbar, Mohammad; Jezierski, Louise; Li, Min; Velie, Ellen (1 January 2010). "The Measurement of Neighborhood Socioeconomic Characteristics and Black and White Residential Segregation in Metropolitan Detroit: Implications for the Study of Social Disparities in Health". Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100 (1): 137–158. doi:10.1080/00045600903379042. In 2000, metropolitan Detroit was the most racially segregated large metropolitan area in the United States (Dn, Stokes, and Thomas 2007). Accompanying such extreme racial residential segregation is extreme class segregation. 
  4. ^ Reynolds Farley, Sheldon Danziger, Harry J. Holzer (2002). "The Evolution of Racial Segregation". Detroit divided. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. ISBN 9780871542816. 
  5. ^ a b c Meinke, Samantha (September 2011). "Milliken v Bradley: The Northern Battle for Desegregation" (PDF). Michigan Bar Journal 90 (9): 20–22. Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d Sedler, Robert A. (1987). "The Profound Impact of Milliken v Bradley". Wayne Law Review 33 (5): 1693. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  7. ^ James, David R. (December 1989). "City Limits on Racial Equality: The Effects of City-Suburb Boundaries on Public-School Desegregation, 1968-1976". American Sociological Review 54 (6). doi:10.2307/2095718. Retrieved 29 July 2012. 
  8. ^ Wikisource:Milliken v. Bradley/Dissent Marshall

External links[edit]

Works related to Milliken v. Bradley at Wikisource