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Pasadena City Bd. of Educ. v. Spangler, 427 U.S. 424 (1976)

Pasadena City Bd. of Educ. v. Spangler, 427 U.S. 424 (1976)

No. 75-164

Argued April 27-28, 1976

Decided June 28, 1976

427 U.S. 424


In 1968, respondents, Pasadena, Cal., high school students and their parents, brought a purported class action against various school officials seeking injunctive relief from allegedly unconstitutional segregation of the public schools in Pasadena. The United States intervened as a party plaintiff pursuant to § 902 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provides that, upon intervention, "the United States shall be entitled to the same relief as if it had instituted the action." Ultimately, in 1970, the District Court, holding that the defendants' educational policies and procedures violated the Fourteenth Amendment, enjoined the defendants from failing to adopt a desegregation plan, ordered them to submit a plan for desegregating the Pasadena schools which would provide that, beginning with the 1970-1971 school year, there would be no school "with a majority of any minority students," and retained jurisdiction so as to see that such a plan was carried out. The defendants did not appeal from this decree, and subsequently submitted the "Pasadena Plan," which was approved by the District Court. In 1974, however, petitioner school officials, successors to the original defendants, filed a motion with the District Court seeking to modify the 1970 order by eliminating the "no majority" requirement, whose meaning was admittedly unclear to all the parties, dissolving the injunction, and terminating the court's retained jurisdiction, or, in the alternative, to obtain approval of the petitioners' proposed modifications of the "Pasadena Plan." The District Court denied the motion, largely on the grounds that petitioners had failed to comply with the 1970 order, that literal compliance with the "no majority" requirement had occurred only in the initial year of the "Pasadena Plan's" operation, that subsequently a number of schools had violated that requirement, and that such requirement was an inflexible one to be applied anew each school year even though subsequent changes in the racial mix in the schools were caused by factors for which petitioners might not be considered responsible. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but with reservations,

Page 427 U. S. 425

which it felt the District Court would heed, as to that court's view that it had a lifetime commitment to the "no majority" requirement and as to the substance of such requirement.


1. The United States' presence in the case pursuant to § 902 of the Civil Rights Act of 1984 ensures that the case is not moot, although it is moot as to respondent students and parents who were the original named plaintiffs because these students have graduated from the school system and thus they and their parents no longer have any stake in the outcome of the litigation, and there has been no certification of a class of unnamed students still attending the Pasadena schools to be represented by the named plaintiffs. Pp. 427 U. S. 429-431.

2. Having adopted the "Pasadena Plan" in 1970 as establishing a racially neutral system of student assignment in the school system, the District Court exceeded its authority in enforcing its order so as to require annual readjustment of attendance zones so that there would not be a majority of any minority in any Pasadena public school. Pp. 427 U. S. 431-440.

(a) Since the post-1971 shifts in the racial makeup of some of the schools resulted from changes in the demographics of Pasadena's residential pattern due to a normal pattern of people moving into, out of, and around the school system, and were not attributable to any segregative action on the school officials' part, neither the school officials nor the District Court were

"constitutionally required to make year-by-year adjustments of the racial composition of student bodies once the affirmative duty to desegregate has been accomplished and racial discrimination through official action is eliminated from the system."

Swann v. Board of Education, 402 U. S. 1, 402 U. S. 32. Pp. 427 U. S. 435-436.

(b) The fact that even if the "no majority" requirement had been unambiguous, it would be contrary to the intervening decision in Swann, supra, and that, being ambiguous, the parties interpreted it in a manner contrary to the District Court's ultimate interpretation, are factors, which, taken together, support modification, of the 1970 decree. Pp. 427 U. S. 437-438.

(c) The Court of Appeals' disapproval of the District Court's view that it had a lifetime commitment to the "no majority" requirement, and of the substance of that requirement, was not sufficient to remove the requirement from the case, since, even though the Court of Appeals assumed that the District Court would heed such disapproval on remand, the fact remains that, despite such disapproval, the Court of Appeals affirmed the

Page 427 U. S. 426

District Court's denial of the motion to amend the 1970 order, and thus subjected petitioners to contempt for violation of the injunctive decree notwithstanding that they might have reasonable and proper objections to the decree. On this phase of the case, petitioners were entitled to a reversal of the District Court with respect to its treatment of the "no majority" requirement portion of the 1970 order. Pp. 427 U. S. 438-440.

519 F.2d 430, vacated and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 427 U. S. 441. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 427 U. S. 427

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