For twenty-five years, the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) maintained an integrated school system in and near Louisville, Kentucky, under a 1975 federal court decree. After release from that decree, the JCPS elected to continue its integrated schools through a "managed choice plan" that included broad racial guidelines (the 2001 Plan). Subsequently, several students and their parents alleged in a civil complaint that the Board's student assignment plan violated their rights under the Equal Protection Clause, as well as under Titles VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 703(a) (1), the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681, the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and state constitutional and statutory provisions. The plaintiffs were represented by private counsel.
District Judge John G. Heyburn grappled with resolving the plaintiffs' case in the wake of then-recent Supreme Court decisions upholding race-conscious admissions policies at a state law school while striking down different race-conscious admissions policies at an undergraduate school on the same campus. See Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306 (2003) and Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244 (2003). Judge Heyburn observed that the Supreme Court cases set out a requirement that any use of race in a higher education admissions plan must further a compelling governmental interest and must be narrowly tailored to meet that interest, whereas the case before him involved the different context of an elementary and secondary school student assignment plan.
After presiding over a five-day hearing in December 2003, and considering extensive stipulations and exhibits, the judge found on June 29, 2004, that JCPS' managed choice plan met the compelling interest requirement because the district had articulated some of the same reasons for integrated public schools that the Supreme Court upheld in Grutter. Moreover, the Board described other compelling interests and benefits of integrated schools (such as improved student education and community support for public schools) that were not relevant in the law school context but were relevant to public elementary and secondary schools. The court also found that, in most respects, the JCPS student assignment plan also met the narrow-tailoring requirement. The plan's broad racial guidelines did not constitute a quota and, in the judge's view, avoided the use of race in predominant and unnecessary ways that unduly harmed members of a particular racial group. The Board also used other race neutral means, such as geographic boundaries, special programs and student choice, to achieve racial integration. Judge Heyburn found, however, that the Board used a student assignment process for the "traditional" schools that it operated that was distinct from the process employed at all other programs and schools. In the traditional schools' assignment process, JCPS separated students into racial categories in a manner that the judge found was completely unnecessary to accomplish its objective of maintaining a fully integrated countywide system of schools. To the extent the 2001 Plan incorporated racial categorization procedures for assignments to traditional schools, the court concluded that it violated the Equal Protection Clause. The judge ruled that the Board could continue to administer the 2001 Plan in every respect in all of its schools, with the exception of its use of racial categories in the traditional school assignment process. McFarland v. Jefferson County Public Schools, 330 F. Supp.2d 834 (W.D. Ky. 2004). (Footnote 8 of Judge Heyburn's order lists numerous reported decisions he regarded as legal predecessors of his opinion, including one--Hampton v. Jefferson County Board of Education, 72 F. Supp.2d 753 (W.D. Ky. 1999)--which provides a complete legal and historical background of the case.)
One of the plaintiffs appealed and, on July 25, 2006, the district court's ruling was affirmed in a per curiam decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. 416 F.3d 513 (6th Cir. 2006). That plaintiff, however, petitioned the Supreme Court to issue a writ of certiorari in order to review the Sixth Circuit's affirmance. On June 5, 2006, the Supreme Court issued the writ and directed that the case and a similar appeal involving public schools in Seattle, WA. were to be considered together. Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 547 U.S. 1177 (2006).
In June 2007, the Supreme Court issued its ruling addressing the issues raised in the two cases. Published as Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1, 551 U.S. 701, 127 S. Ct. 2738, 168 L. Ed. 2d 508 (June 28, 2007), the ruling consists of several parts, with some mustering a 5-4 majority and others only a plurality. The majority framed the issue as whether a public school system that had not operated legally segregated schools (i.e., Seattle) or that had been found to be unitary (i.e., Jefferson County) may choose to classify students by race and rely upon that classification in making school assignments. Although the appellate courts had upheld the school systems in each case, the Supreme Court reversed. After reviewing the operation of the racial classifications used by each school system and ruling that changed circumstances did not deprive it of jurisdiction, the Supreme Court set out the framework it used to evaluate the two cases. Its' prior cases, in evaluating the use of racial classifications in the school context, recognized two interests that qualified as compelling. The first was the compelling interest of remedying the effects of past intentional discrimination. This factor could not apply to the Seattle system, which had never engaged in such discrimination, nor to the JCPS system, which had been found to be unitary. The second government interest recognized as compelling was the interest in diversity in higher education, but only where the racial component of the process is a part of an individualized, holistic consideration process. Because each system under review relied on racial classifications in a nonindividualized, mechanical way, and because of the different context presented by public elementary and secondary schools in comparison to higher education, the school systems' could not rely on race as they had; Grutter did not govern. In a portion of his opinion garnering three concurring votes, Chief Justice Roberts wrote that the racial classifications employed by the districts were not narrowly tailored to the goal of achieving the educational and social benefits asserted to flow from racial diversity. In his view of their design and operation, the plans were directed only to racial balance, pure and simple, an objective he said that the Court had repeatedly condemned as illegitimate. He rejected use of racial balancing as an end in itself and rejected efforts to re-label the practice as racial diversity, avoidance of racial isolation, or racial integration. To the Chief Justice, the Constitution prohibited the states' use of means that treat students solely as members of a racial group, rather than as individuals. In the following part of his opinion, he noted that both districts asserted the minimal impact of the districts' racial classifications on school enrollment, observing that the assertion casts doubt on the necessity component of assessing governmental use of racial classifications. Nor had either district shown they seriously considered other, race-neutral methods of achieving their educational goals. The opinion described what the Chief Justice considered flaws in a lengthy dissent authored by Justice Stephen Breyer. Justice Stevens also filed a dissenting opinion. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion and Justice Kennedy filed a separate opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. The cases were remanded to the Courts of Appeals for further proceedings.
Subsequently, the Sixth Circuit returned the JCPS case to the district court for further proceedings. That court's docket sheet reflects that Judge Heyburn held a status conference in early August 2007, and concluded afterward that, based upon the School Board's then-expressed intentions, the Board was in compliance with the Supreme Court's ruling. The judge noted that plaintiff's counsel stated he would not be seeking any further equitable relief on behalf of plaintiff or any other persons.
On August 29, 2007, the court responded to a motion for a specific student to be enrolled in the elementary school of the student's choice. Although JCPS had allowed for enrollment prior to the order, the issue had brought the practice of questioning of different attendance zones for black and white students to determine assignments at three traditional magnet elementary schools to the court's attention. The court determined that the practice did not meet the "narrow tailoring standard" issued by the Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 306, 334 (2003). JCPS was ordered to discontinue the practice as a result.
On November 9, 2007, Judge Heyburn ordered an award of $ 200,000 in attorney’s fees and $10,138.02 in expenses. JCPS provided notice of satisfaction of this judgment in December of 2007.
Two months later, the plaintiffs requested that the case be reopened. On March 11, 2008, the court denied the plaintiff's motion, stating that the plaintiffs was not affected by the new plan and thus had no standing.
This case is now closed.Mike Fagan - 06/30/2008
Erin Pamukcu - 01/28/2016
Virginia Weeks - 11/06/2016