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Case Name Adams v. Richardson SD-DC-0001
Docket / Court Civ. A. 3095-70 ( D.D.C. )
Additional Docket(s) 74-1720  [ 74-1720 ]
State/Territory District of Columbia
Case Type(s) Education
School Desegregation
Attorney Organization NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Case Summary
This education desegregation lawsuit against the federal government was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 1970 by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) on behalf of plaintiffs from across the country. Plaintiffs were black college students, citizens, and taxpayers from ... read more >
This education desegregation lawsuit against the federal government was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 1970 by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF) on behalf of plaintiffs from across the country. Plaintiffs were black college students, citizens, and taxpayers from ten states that had been identified by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) for “operating segregated systems of higher education in violation of Title VI” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 351 F. Supp. 636, 637–38 (D.D.C. 1972). Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the Secretary of HEW and the Director of HEW’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) because they claimed HEW and OCR were not doing their part to administer Title VI.

The first district court opinion was issued on November 16, 1972. Judge John H. Pratt found that the ten states identified by HEW— Mississippi, Louisiana, Virginia, Maryland, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania—either completely ignored HEW’s request for a higher education desegregation plan or submitted deficient desegregation plans to HEW. HEW failed to enforce Title VI against these states and it continued to give federal funding to these states to support their public schools at every level: elementary, secondary, and post-secondary. According to Title VI, HEW was supposed to deny/terminate federal financial assistance to states that were not in compliance with the law or take any other legal measures to enforce state compliance with Title VI. Judge Pratt ordered that HEW officials could no longer use their limited discretion to enforce Title VI; rather, they were ordered to use the means available in Title VI to achieve compliance on a case-by-case basis. Adams v. Richardson, 351 F. Supp. 636 (D.D.C. 1972).

Next, on February 16, 1973, Judge Pratt granted the plaintiffs’ motions for declaratory and injunctive relief. HEW was required to commence enforcement of Title VI within 120 days of the order so the noncompliant states were forced to comply with Title VI. A report had to be submitted to the court describing the affirmative steps taken by HEW to ensure compliance with Title VI. HEW also had to submit reports so the court could evaluate the reasons for any delays in enforcing Title VI, monitor the school districts in seventeen states that had disproportionate school populations, look at HEW’s investigative strategies, and oversee HEW’s monitoring of court desegregation orders/termination actions. Adams v. Richardson, 356 F. Supp. 92 (D.D.C. 1973).

The defendants appealed this decision. On June 12, 1973, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the district court’s opinion. It held that Title VI was judicially enforceable, HEW was obligated to enforce Title VI when schools chose not to comply with the law in a reasonable amount of time, HEW had more time to enforce Title VI in post-secondary institutions than the district court initially granted, and HEW could be required to engage in monitoring practices for schools that were under court-ordered desegregation. 480 F.2d 1159 (D.C. Cir. 1973). According to a later decision, HEW was given until June 21, 1974 to enforce Title VI in post-secondary institutions. Later, Louisiana and Mississippi were referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for judicial enforcement proceedings because their desegregation plans were found to be deficient by HEW.

Back in district court, in 1975, the plaintiffs filed a motion for further relief. This motion was granted by Judge Pratt on March 14, 1975 in an opinion captioned Adams v. Weinberger. Judge Pratt found that, although progress had been made, HEW was continuing to fail to fully enforce Title VI because HEW was relying heavily on voluntary negotiations and its was reluctant to use administrative sanctions against noncompliant school districts. HEW was ordered to put school districts on notice of that there was racial disproportion in their schools, commence enforcement proceedings against noncompliant school districts, notify courts of schools that were not in compliance with their court-enforced desegregation orders, and report its progress to the plaintiffs. 391 F. Supp. 269 (D.D.C. 1975).

The Women’s Equity Action League (WEAL), a woman’s rights organization, filed a motion to intervene in this action in 1974. In an unavailable district court opinion, Judge Pratt denied the motion to intervene. However, this decision was reversed by the court of appeals in 1976 and WEAL was allowed to intervene. By intervening, WEAL introduced Title IX into the action. WEAL claimed that, through Judge Pratt’s court-ordered Title VI enforcement, HEW’s resources were being siphoned away from Title IX enforcement. Judge Pratt initially found those issues to be limited to WEAL’s other lawsuit and therefore denied its motion to intervene; however, the court of appeals disagreed. WEAL contended, and the court of appeals found, that “their interest in devotion of HEW resources to Title IX complaints may be adjudicated” through this action and that the Adams litigation would not be interrupted by a WEAL intervention. Adams v. Matthews, 536 F.2d 417 (D.C. Cir. 1976).

In 1977, plaintiffs filed a motion for further relief because, they contended, HEW was still in violation of Title VI. The district court determined that the states’ university systems were still segregated and the desegregation plans submitted by the states regarding their systems of higher education did not meet HEW standards, but HEW approved them anyway. These states continued to receive federal funding. HEW was ordered “to devise criteria for higher education desegregation plans which will take into account the unique importance of Black colleges and at the same time comply with the congressional mandate.” States had to resubmit desegregation plans to HEW which had to accept or reject each plans in accordance with this order. Adams v. Califano, 430 F. Supp. 118 (D.D.C. 1977). In 1978, HEW's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) developed a framework for states higher education desegregation, requiring eradication of vestiges of segregated systems in each reflected in dissimilarity between white and black enrollment and graduation rates and duplication of black college program offerings by nearby white institutions.

In 1983, in an unavailable district court opinion, Judge Pratt denied an injunction that prohibited the U.S. Department of Education (the agency that succeeded HEW) from settling an enforcement proceeding brought against the North Carolina higher education system for being in violation of Title VI. The court of appeals affirmed Judge Pratt’s decision and held that the initial court order that required the DOE to initiate enforcement proceedings did not extend to the DOE’s settlement of its enforcement action against North Carolina. Adams v. Bell, 711 F.2d 161 (D.C. Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1021 (1984).

Apparently, an injunction was entered with respect to the gender equity issues; the federal government appealed, arguing that the injunction a consent decree that underlay it “impermissibly intrude[d] on their statutory and constitutional authority to manage and supervise their agencies’ enforcement of various civil rights laws” and “the district court’s orders violate fundamental principles of separation of powers.” These officers thought that the lengthy court proceedings had lost sight of the original goals of the case, and that the court was substituting in new plaintiffs who could not receive any relief from the litigation. The court of appeals remanded the case to determine whether the new plaintiffs had standing and if the issues presented in the original litigation were moot. Women’s Equity Action League v. Bell, 743 F.2d 42 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (per curiam).

On remand, Judge Pratt held that all of the Adams plaintiffs at the time, including college and noncollege students and women’s organizations, lacked standing to challenge the DOE’s enforcement of prohibition against discrimination. In this opinion, Judge Pratt noted that the nature of the litigation had changed because, “[P]laintiffs . . . [no longer] claim that defendants have abrogated their statutory responsibilities, but rather that, in carrying them out, they do not always process complaints, conduct investigations, issue letters of findings, or conduct complince reviews as promptly or expeditiously as plaintiffs would like.” Additionally, Judge Pratt held that some of his prior orders that refused to vacate time frames for OCR to process discrimination complaints and reimposed time frames regarding higher education violated the separation of powers. The federal officers’ motion to dismiss was granted. Adams v. Bennett675 F. Supp. 668 (D.D.C. 1987).

Judge Pratt’s 1987 decision was appealed to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In an opinion by then Court of Appeals Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the D.C. Circuit reversed Judge Pratt’s decision and held that the plaintiffs (consisting of students, employees, and other organizations affected by discrimination in higher education) had satisfied the threshold standing requirement. She ordered that the lingering issues in the case be briefed and argued in front of the court of appeals. Women's Equity Action League v. Cavazos, 879 F.2d 880 (D.C. Cir. 1989).

When the case was argued in front of the court of appeals, the only issue was whether plaintiffs could “maintain a broad-gauged right of action directly against the federal government officers charged with monitoring and enforcing funding recipients’ compliance with discrimination proscriptions.” Judge Ginsburg held that the plaintiffs could not get relief under any of the avenues they sought (the Administrative Procedure Act, the Mandamus Act, the U.S. Constitution, or 5 U.S.C. § 704) because these sources do not allow long-term, continuous, across-the-board federal court monitoring of executive enforcement. The district court’s dismissal was affirmed. Women's Equity Action League v. Cavazos, 906 F.2d 742 (D.C. Cir. 1990).

After the case was dismissed, it appears there was no further litigation. The case is closed.

Available Opinions
Adams v. Richardson, 351 F. Supp. 636 (D.D.C. 1972).
Adams v. Richardson, 356 F. Supp. 92 (D.D.C. 1973).
Adams v. Richardson, 480 F.2d 1159 (D.C. Cir. 1973).
Adams v. Weinberger, 391 F. Supp. 269 (D.D.C. 1975).
Adams v. Mathews, 536 F.2d 417 (D.C. Cir. 1976).
Adams v. Califano, 430 F. Supp. 118 (D.D.C. 1977).
Adams v. Bell, 711 F.2d 161 (D.C. Cir. 1983).
Women's Equity Action League v. Bell, 743 F.2d 42 (D.C. Cir. 1984).
Adams v. Bennett, 675 F. Supp. 668 (D.D.C. 1987).
Women's Equity Action League v. Cavazos, 879 F.2d 880 (D.C. Cir. 1989).
Women's Equity Action League v. Cavazos, 906 F.2d 742 (D.C. Cir. 1990).

Amelia Huckins - 03/26/2017

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Develop anti-discrimination policy
Discrimination Prohibition
Race discrimination
Language/ethnic/minority needs
Racial segregation
School/University Facilities
School/University policies
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Non-government non-profit
Causes of Action Title VI, Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000d et seq.
Defendant(s) Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
Plaintiff Description Plaintiffs were black college students and taxpayers who resided in states across the country that were not in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Form of Settlement Court Approved Settlement or Consent Decree
Order Duration 1972 - 1990
Filing Year 1970
Case Closing Year 1990
Case Ongoing No reason to think so
Additional Resources
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  Litigation Trends in the Desegregation of Higher Education
Date: May 18, 2007
By: Laura Uberti Hughes (Washington University in St. Louis Law Student)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ]

  Justice and School Systems: The Role of the Courts in Education Litigation
Date: May 10, 1990
By: Barbara Flicker (Institute of Judicial Administration Inc.)
Citation: (Barbara Flicker, ed.) (1990)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
Memorandum Opinion (351 F.Supp. 636) (D.D.C.)
SD-DC-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 11/16/1972
Source: Google Scholar
Declaratory Judgment and Injunction Order (356 F.Supp. 92) (D.D.C.)
SD-DC-0001-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 02/16/1973
Source: Google Scholar
[Opinion] (480 F.2d 1159)
SD-DC-0001-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/16/1973
Source: Google Scholar
Supplemental Order (391 F.Supp. 269) (D.D.C.)
SD-DC-0001-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 03/14/1975
Source: Google Scholar
Order (536 F.2d 417)
SD-DC-0001-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 05/07/1976
Source: Google Scholar
Second Supplemental Order (430 F.Supp. 118) (D.D.C.)
SD-DC-0001-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 04/01/1977
Source: Google Scholar
[Opinion] (711 F.2d 161)
SD-DC-0001-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/10/1983
Source: Google Scholar
Opinion Per Curiam (743 F.2d 42)
SD-DC-0001-0009.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/14/1984
Source: Google Scholar
Memorandum Opinion and Order (675 F.Supp. 668) (D.D.C.)
SD-DC-0001-0008.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 12/11/1987
Source: Google Scholar
[Opinion] (879 F.2d 880)
SD-DC-0001-0011.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/07/1989
Source: Google Scholar
[Opinion] (906 F.2d 742)
SD-DC-0001-0010.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/26/1990
Source: Google Scholar
Judges Bazelon, David L. (D.C. Circuit)
Ginsburg, Ruth Bader (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS)
SD-DC-0001-0009 | SD-DC-0001-0010 | SD-DC-0001-0011
Leventhal, Harold (D.C. Circuit)
SD-DC-0001-0003 | SD-DC-0001-0005
MacKinnon, George Edward (FISCR, D.C. Circuit)
SD-DC-0001-0003 | SD-DC-0001-0009
McGowan, Carl E. (D.C. Circuit)
Pratt, John Helm (D.D.C.)
SD-DC-0001-0001 | SD-DC-0001-0002 | SD-DC-0001-0004 | SD-DC-0001-0006 | SD-DC-0001-0008
Robb, Roger (D.C. Circuit)
Robinson, Spottswood William III (D.D.C., D.C. Circuit)
SD-DC-0001-0003 | SD-DC-0001-0005
Tamm, Edward Allen (D.D.C., D.C. Circuit)
Wilkey, Malcolm Richard (D.C. Circuit)
SD-DC-0001-0003 | SD-DC-0001-0007 | SD-DC-0001-0009
Wright, James Skelly (E.D. La., D.C. Circuit)
SD-DC-0001-0003 | SD-DC-0001-0005

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