Acknowledging Those Stubborn Facts of History: The Vestiges of Segregation


In 1955, as part of its historic drive to desegregate the nation's public schools, the Supreme Court authorized district judges to set in motion and oversee desegregation programs in hundreds of school districts throughout the country. Within a few decades of this decision, however, such desegregation programs quickly came under attack. In the 1991 decision Board of Education v. Dowell, the Supreme Court responded to these criticisms by providing a two-part test for determining when a district had achieved unitary status and therefore could be freed from its desegregation program. The test hinged on whether a district had eliminated the vestiges of past discrimination to the extent practicable. Circuit Courts applying this test have interpreted the definition of vestiges very narrowly, failing to recognize any aspects of present day schools as legacies of segregation. As a result, nearly all challenged desegregation programs have been terminated, with courts declaring that formerly dual school districts have achieved unitary status. This Comment advocates a longer life for these programs through a more expansive reading of the Dowell test and a broader definition of the term vestiges, in particular.

About the Author

Managing Editor, UCLA Law Review, Volume 50. J.D., UCLA School of Law, 2003; B.A., Stanford University, 1997.

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