407 US 484 United States v. Scotland Neck City Board of Education Cotton
407 U.S. 484
92 S.Ct. 2214
33 L.Ed.2d 75
UNITED STATES, Petitioner,
SCOTLAND NECK CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION et al. Pattie Black COTTON et al., Petitioners, v. SCOTLAND NECK CITY BOARD OF EDUCATION et al.
Nos. 70—130, 70—187.
Argued Feb. 29 and March 1, 1972.
Decided June 22, 1972.
A state statute authorized creation of a new school district
for Scotland Neck, N.C., a city that was part of the larger
Halifax County school district, then in the process of dismantling
a dual school system. The District Court in this litigation
instituted by the United States enjoined implementation of the
statute as creating a refuge for white students and promoting
school segregation in the county. The Court of Appeals reversed,
ruling that the statute's impact on dismantling the county dual
system was minimal and that it should not be regarded as an
alternative desegregation plan for the county since it was enacted
by the legislature and not by the school board. Held: Whether the
action affecting dismantling of a dual school system is initiated
by the legislature or by the school board is immaterial, North
Carolina State Board of Education v. Swann, 402 U.S. 43, 91 S.Ct.
1284, 28 L.Ed.2d 586; the criterion is whether the dismantling is
furthered or hindered by carving a new school district from the
larger district having the dual school system, and a proposal that
would impede the dismantling process may be enjoined. Wright v.
Council of City of Emporia, 407 U.S. 451, 92 S.Ct. 2196, 33
L.Ed.2d 51. Pp. 488—491.
442 F.2d 575, reversed.
Lawrence G. Wallace, Washington, D.C., for the United States.
Adam Stein, Charlotte, N.C., for Pattie Black Cotton and
William T. Joyner, Raleigh, N.C., and C. Kitchin Josey,
Scotland Neck, N.C., for Scotland Neck City Bd. of Ed. and others
in both cases.
djQ Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
The petitioners in these consolidated cases challenge the
implementation of a North Carolina statute authorizing the
creation of a new school district for Scotland Neck, a city which
at the time of the statute's enactment was part of a larger school
district then in the process of dismantling a dual school system.
In a judgment entered the same day as its judgment in Council of
City of Emporia v. Wright, 442 F.2d 570, a decision which we
reverse today, 407 U.S. 451, 92 S.Ct. 2196, 33 L.Ed.2d 51, the
Court of Appeals held that the District Court erred in enjoining
the creation of the new school district.
Scotland Neck is a community of about 3,000 persons, located
in the southeastern portion of Halifax County, North Carolina.
Since 1936, the city has been a part of the Halifax County
Administrative Unit, a school district comprising the entire
county with the exception of two towns located in the northern
section. In the 1968—1969 school year, 10,655 students attended
schools in this system, of whom 77% were Negro, 22% white, and 1%
The schools of Halifax County were completely segregated by
race until 1965. In that year, the school board adopted a
freedom-of-choice plan that produced very
little actual desegregation. In the 1967—1968 school year, all of
the white students in the county attended the four traditionally
all-white schools, while 97% of the Negro students attended the 14
traditionally all-Negro schools. The school-busing system, used by
90% of the students, was segregated by race, and faculty
desegregation was minimal.
In 1968, the United States Department of Justice entered into
negotiations with the Halifax County School Board to bring the
county's school system into compliance with federal law. An
agreement was reached whereby the school board undertook to
provide some desegregation in the fall of 1968, and to effect a
completely unitary system in the 1969—1970 school year. The State
Department of Public Instruction, acting on a request from the
county board, recommended a detailed plan (the Interim Plan) for
the unitary system that would have put some white students in
every school in the county, and that would have left a white
majority in only one school.
In January 1969, after the Interim Plan had been submitted to
the county school board but before any action had been taken upon
it, a bill was introduced in the state legislature to authorize
the creation of a new school district bounded by the city limits
of Scotland Neck, upon approval by a majority of the city's
voters.1 The bill was enacted on March 3, 1969, as Chapter 31 of
the 1969 Session Laws of North Carolina. The citizens of Scotland
Neck approved the new school
district in a referendum a month later,2 and the new district
began taking steps toward beginning a separat e school system
in the fall of 1969.
The effect of Chapter 31 was to carve out of the Halifax
school district a new unit with 695 students, of whom 399 (57%)
were white and 296 (43%) were Negro. Under a transfer plan devised
by the newly appointed Scotland Neck City Board of Education, 360
students (350 white and 10 Negro) residing outside the city limits
applied to transfer into the Scotland Neck schools, while 44
students (all Negro) applied to transfer out of the city system to
a nearby school in the Halifax County system. The new district
planned to use the facilities of the formerly all-white Scotland
Neck High School, including one building located outside the city
limits that would be leased from the county.
The United States filed this lawsuit in June 1969 against
both city and county officials, seeking desegregation of the
existing Halifax County schools.3 The complaint asked for
preliminary and permanent injunctions against the implementation
of Chapter 31. Various Negro children, parents, and teachers, the
petitioners in No. 70—187, were permitted to intervene as
After a three-day hearing before two district judges on both
this case and a similar case involving two newly created school
districts in neighboring Warren County,
the District Court preliminarily enjoined the implementation of
Chapter 31, finding that 'the Act in its application creates a
refuge for white students, and promotes segregated schools in
Halifax County,' and furtherthat '(t)he Act impedes and defeats
the Halifax County Board of Education from implementing its plan
to completely desegregate all of the public schools in Halifax
County by the opening of the school year 1969—70.'4 After further
hearings, the District Court on May 23, 1970, found Chapter 31
unconstitutional and permanently enjoined its enforcement. 314
F.Supp. 65. The Court of Appeals reversed, 442 F.2d 575, and we
granted certiorari. 404 U.S. 821, 92 S.Ct. 47, 30 L.Ed.2d 49.
The Court of Appeals did not believe that the separation of
Scotland Neck from the Halifax County system should be viewed as
an alternative plan for desegregating the county system, because
the 'severance was not part of a desegregation plan proposed by
the school board but was instead an action by the Legislature
redefining the boundaries of local governmental units.' 442 F.2d,
at 583. This suggests that an action of a state legislature
affecting the desegregation of a dual system stands on a footing
different from an action of a school board. But in North Carolina
State Board of Education v. Swann, 402 U.S. 43, 91 S.Ct. 1284, 28
L.Ed.2d 586, decided after the decision of the Court of Appeals in
this case, we held that 'if a state-imposed limitation on a school
authority's discretion operates to inhibit or obstruct . . . the
disestablishing of a dual school system, it must fall; state
policy must give way when it operates to hinder vindication of
federal constitutional guarantees.' Id., at 45, 91 S.Ct., at 1286.
The fact that the creation of the Scotland Neck school district
was authorized by a special act of the state legisla-
ture rather than by the school board or city authorities thus has
no constitutional significance.
We have today held that any attempt by state or local
officials to carve out a new school district from an existing
district that is in the process of dismantling a dual school
system 'must be judged according to whether it hinders or furthers
the process of school desegregation. If the proposal would impede
the dismantling of a dual system, then a district court, in the
exercise of its remedial discretion, may enjoin it from being
carried out.' Wright v. Council of City of Emporia, supra, 407
U.S., at 460, 92 S.Ct., at 2202. The District Court in this case
concluded that Chapter 31 'was enacted with the effect of creating
a refuge for white students of the Halifax County School system,
and interferes with the desegregation of the Halifax County School
system . . ..' 314 F.Supp., at 78. The Court of Appeals, however,
did not regard the separation of Scotland Neck as creating a
refuge for white students seeking to escape desegregation, and it
held that 'the effect of the separation of the Scotland Neck
schools and students on the desegregation of the remainder of the
Halifax County system is minimal and insufficient to invalidate
Chapter 31.' 442 F.2d, at 582. Our review of the record leads us
to conclude that the District Court's determination was the only
proper inference to be drawn from the facts of this litigation,
and we thus reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
The major impact of Chapter 31 would fall on the southeastern
portion of Halifax County, designated as District I in the Interim
Plan for unitary schools proposed by the State Department of
Public Instruction. The projected enrollment in the schools of
this district under the Interim Plan was 2,948 students, of whom
78% were Negro. If Chapter 31 were implemented, the Scotland Neck
schools would be 57%
white, while the schools remaining in District I would be 89%
Negro. The traditional racial identities of the schools in the
area would be maintained; the formerly all-white Scotland Neck
school would retain a white majority, while the formerly all-Negro
Brawley school, a high school located just outside Scotland Neck,
would be 91% Negro.
In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402
U.S. 1, 91 S.Ct. 1267, 28 L.Ed.2d 554, we said that district
judges or school authorities 'should make every effort to achieve
the greatest possible degree of actual desegregation,' and that in
formulating a plan to remedy state-enforced school segregation
there should be 'a presumption against schools that are
substantially disproportionate in their racial composition.' Id.,
at 26, 91 S.Ct., at 1281. And we have said today in Wright v.
Council of City of Emporia, supra, 407 U.S., at 463, 92 S.Ct., at
2204 that 'desegregation is not achieved by splitting a single
school system operating 'white schools' and 'Negro schools' into
two new systems, each operating unitary schools within its
borders, where one of the two new systems, is, in fact, 'white'
and the other is, in fact, 'Negro."
In this litigation, the disparity in the racial composition
of the Scotland Neck schools and the schools remaining in District
I of the Halifax County system would be 'substantial' by any
standard of measurement. And the enthusiastic response among
whites residing outside Scotland Neck to the school board's
proposed transfer plan confirmed what the figures suggest: the
Scotland Neck school was to be the 'white school' of the area,
while the other District I schools would remain 'Negro schools.'
Given these facts, we cannot but conclude that the implementation
of Chapter 31 would have the effect of impeding the
disestablishment of the dual school system that existed in Halifax
The primary argument made by the respondents in
support of Chapter 31 is that the separation of the Scotland Neck
schools from those of Halifax County was necessary to avoid 'white
flight' by Scotland Neck residents into private schools that would
follow complete dismantling of the dual school system.
Supplemental affidavits were submitted to the Court of Appeals
documenting the degree to which the system has undergone a loss of
students since the unitary school plan took effect in the fall of
1970.5 But while this development may be cause for deep concern to
the respondents, it cannot, as the Court of Appeals recognized, be
accepted as a reason for achieving anything less than complete
uprooting of the dual public school system. See Monroe v. Board of
Commissioners, 391 U.S. 450, 459, 88 S.Ct. 1700, 1705, 20 L.Ed.2d
djQ Mr. Chief Justice BURGER, with whom Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, Mr.
Justice POWELL, and Mr. Justice REHNQUIST join, concurring in the
I agree that the creation of a separate school system in
Scotland Neck would tend to undermine desegregation efforts in
Halifax County, and I thus join in the result reached by the
Court. However, since I dissented from the Court's decision in
Wright v. Council of City of Emporia, 407 U.S., p. 471, 92 S.Ct.,
p. 2207, I feel constrained to set forth briefly the reasons why I
distinguish the two cases.
First, the operation of a separate school system in Scotland
Neck would preclude meaningful desegregation in the southeastern
portion of Halifax County. If Scotland Neck were permitted to
operate separate schools, more than 2,200 of the nearly 3,000
students in this sector would attend virtually all-Negro schools
outside of the corporate limits of Scotland Neck. The schools
located within Scotland Neck would be predominantly white. Further
shifts could reasonably be anticipated. In a very real sense, the
children residing in this relatively small area would continue to
attend 'Negro schools' and 'white schools.' The effect of the
withdrawal would thus be dramatically different from the effect
which could be anticipated in Emporia.
Second, Scotland Neck's action cannot be seen as the
fulfillment of its destiny as an independent governmental entity.
Scotland Neck had been a part of the county-wide school system for
many years; special legislation had to be pushed through the North
Carolina General Assembly to enable Scotland Neck to operate its
own school system. The movement toward the creation of a separate
school system in Scotland Neck was prompted solely by the
likelihood of desegregation in the county, not by any change in
the political status of the municipality. Scotland Neck was and is
a part of Halifax County. The city of Emporia, by contrast, is
totally independent from Greensville County; Emporia's only ties
to the county are contractual. When Emporia became a city, a
status derived pursuant to longstanding statutory procedures, it
took on the legal responsibility of providing for the education of
its children and was no longer entitled to avail itself of the
county school facilities.
Third, the District Court found, and it is undisputed, that
the Scotland Neck severance was substantially motivated by the
desire to create a predominantly white system more acceptable to
the white parents of Scotland Neck. In other words, the new system
was designed to minimize the number of Negro children attending
school with the white children residing in Scotland Neck. No
similar finding was made by the District Court in Emporia, and the
record shows that Emporia's decision was not based on the
projected racial composition of the proposed new system.
An earlier bill had been introduced in the 1965 session of
the legislature, which would have created a separate school
district for Scotland Neck and the four surrounding townships, an
area with a three-to-one Negro majority. It was contemplated that
the new district would operate under a freedom-of-choice plan
similar to that existing in the county at the time. The bill was
defeated in the State Senate.
The vote in the referendum was 813 to 332 in favor of the
new school district. Of Scotland Neck's 1,382 registered voters,
360 were Negro.3 After the preliminary injunction was issued in this case,
the District Court dismissed the Halifax County Board of Education
from that part of the case dealing with Scotland Neck's efforts to
implement a separate school system. On May 19, 1970, the court
ordered the county school board to implement, beginning in the
fall of 1970, the Interim Plan proposed by the State Department of
Public Instruction, with certain modifications proposed by the
The opinion of the District Court on the issuance of the
preliminary injunction is unreported.
The figures supplied to the Court of Appeals were updated
by an affidavit submitted to this Court, showing the total
enrollment in the Halifax County schools at the start of the 1971
1972 school year to have been 9,094, of whom 14% were white.