(CN) – The 6th Circuit voted 2-1 to accept the voluntary dismissal of a decades-long class action aimed at desegregating the public school system in Shelby County, Tenn.
Students and their parents filed a class action in 1963 against the Shelby County Board of Education, alleging unconstitutional racial segregation in the Shelby County schools.
The district court issued numerous orders requiring the school system to desegregate its schools in accordance with the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which rejected the separate-but-equal justification for segregation.
In August 2006, after decades of court supervision, the parties moved to dissolve all outstanding orders and declare the school district a “unitary,” or desegregated, school system.
However, U.S. District Judge Bernice Donald rejected their claim that the goals of the desegregation plan had been adequately fulfilled.
Donald denied the motion for unitary status in the areas of student assignment, faculty integration and extracurricular activities, and established new “racial ratios” for students and faculty. If the new orders were followed, the judge said, court supervision would end by 2015.
The Virginia-based appeals court acknowledged that courts should not simply “rubber stamp” all settlements without considering their constitutional compliance. But it adhered to the notion that courts should encourage voluntary dismissals, particularly over divisive issues like school desegregation.
Judge Griffin said the courts “must afford considerable weight to the joint motion when it is reasonable, filed in good faith, and demonstrates that the constitutional mandate requiring desegregation has been satisfied.”
“Absent reasons and evidence to the contrary,” Griffin added, “the joint motion was entitled to substantial weight in the exercise of the court’s discretion.”
U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley of Ohio, sitting by designation, wrote a 23-page dissent that sided with Judge Donald. “I do not believe that the virtues of compromise can compensate for the lack of evidence substantiating that the County has in fact eliminated, to the extent practicable, all remaining vestiges of unlawful discrimination,” Marbley wrote.