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School Desegregation and Integration: Introduction

Introduction and Scope of Guide

This research guide provides an introduction to the field of public school desegregation and the related field of voluntary integration.  The focus will be on primary and secondary public education as it has developed since the seminal Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.  The intended audience for this guide is that of a practitioner newly come to the subject; consequently, much of the guide will focus on providing an introduction to the desegregation doctrine and provide links to informative secondary sources.

This guide covers three main subject areas.  First, it explores de jure, or by law, segregation.  This is the most familiar aspect of desegregation litigation commonly covered in a constitutional law course.  This section focuses on the Supreme Court's desegregation doctrine, the phases of desegregation litigation, and provides some practitioner's tips.  Today, most desegregation cases have already been brought and the new practitioner is likely to be entering a case where a remedial court order has been in place for several decades.  Still, the information in this section is important for understanding the doctrinal basis for desegregation.

Second, the guide examines some desegregation alternatives that have developed in recent years.  This includes challenges under the federal and state constitution equal protection clauses in areas of school finance and adequate education.  As explained in the guide, litigants involved in alternative causes of action premise their case on the idea that poorly financed schools tend to be heavily minority and thus attempt to convince courts that such a system is a constitutional violation.  This section also highlights important federal statutes such as Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that provides administrative remedies to racial discrimination.

Third, the guide highlights recent trends in voluntary integration litigation.  Many school districts not under federal desegregation orders remain concerned about racial imbalance in their student populations.  These districts have been implementing various student assignment plans to correct this imbalance.  Most of these plans consider race to some degree.  This section covers the Supreme Court's rulings on the subject and provides links to organizations, case studies, and reports that evaluate the success and legality of voluntary integration.

The remainder of the research guide is focused on providing the practitioner with links to secondary sources, advocacy groups, blogs and news sites, and other online resources.  The nature of desegregation litigation is such that many of the most valuable resources are freely available online and require little by way of specialized subscription services.  This guide will provide a road map for finding the best materials for any new practitioner in what has become a very complicated subject over the decades since the Supreme Court's 1954 decision in Brown.

Research Strategy

Research for desegregation and voluntary integration litigation is an interdisciplinary matter.  This field encompasses legal scholars in education law, civil rights law, constitutional law, administrative law, and public policy, as well as political and social scientists, educators, economists, legislators, and policy think tanks.  As a result of this interdisciplinary nature, many of the best resources are available freely online, rather than buried in subscription legal databases and expensive treatises.

Because the heart of desegregation litigation is the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the first stage of research is to familiarize oneself with the case law and doctrine that has developed since the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education.  This guide provides links to the basic and seminal cases in this field.  The guide also provides links to relevant statutes and the agencies charged with developing regulations and enforcing compliance with those statutes.  Because these cases and statutes are freely available online, this level of research is relatively inexpensive.

Once the practitioner has become familiar with the basic case law and statutes relating to desegregation and voluntary integration litigation, the next step is to become familiar with some of the vast array of secondary sources available.  Many of these are not authored by attorneys or legal scholars and will not be available on the traditional subscription databases.  Instead, many of these reports and statistics are available on the authoring organizations' websites for free.  Additionally, the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) provides interpretive materials on their website.

There are some treatises that may be consulted.  Most are general examinations of the historical context of desegregation litigation, but this guide highlights a few that also offer practitioner's tips.  These sources are relatively inexpensive as compared to treatises in other subject areas.  Finally, the field of desegregation litigation as contained within the broader field of education law is constantly evolving through new court decisions and agency regulations.  This guide provides a variety of links to education blogs and news sites for the practitioner to remain up-to-date on the latest trends.

Above all, this guide is not intended to be exhaustive of the subject of desegregation litigation.  Rather, the resources contained within will provide the practitioner with guidance in understanding the basic outlines of the doctrine.  Welcome to the fascinating and ever-changing world of desegregation and voluntary integration litigation!


This guide was originally created in support of Professor Diamond's Advanced Legal Research class for Spring 2014. The contents of this guide should not be taken as legal advice or as the work product of MU Law librarians.