Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717; 94 S. Ct. 3112; 41 L. Ed. 2d 1069 (1974)

Facts—Both the federal District Court and the Court of Appeals had held that inter-district busing was needed to bring about the desegregation of the Detroit city and adjacent or nearby school districts, specially to Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb Counties.

Question—Does the equal protection clause require busing between independent school districts to bring about desegregation?


ReasonsC.J. Warren (5–4). School district lines cannot be casually ignored or treated as a mere administrative convenience. Such would be contrary to the history and tradition of public education. In this country local autonomy for school districts has long been thought essential. However, school district lines are not sacrosanct if they conflict with the Fourteenth Amendment. Here the Court held that there was no inter-district violation and so no basis for an inter-district remedy. Even if the state might be derivatively responsible for Detroit’s segregated conditions, there was no constitutional justification for an inter-district remedy since there was no evidence of activity by the state or outlying districts that had a cross-district effect. The constitutional right of African Americans residing in Detroit is to attend a unitary school system in that district. Cross-district busing would involve an expansion of that right without any support in either constitutional principle or precedent.

J. Douglas, J. White, and J. Marshall all authored dissents emphasizing past state actions that had led to residential segregation, the need to eliminate all vestiges of such segregation, and the inadequacy of the majority ruling to achieve such an objection.

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