Milliken v. Bradley

From Academic Kids

Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974) was an important United States Supreme Court case dealing with the planned forced busing of public school students across district lines among 53 school districts in metropolitan Detroit. It concerned the plans to integrate public schools in the United States in the aftermath of the Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) decision.

It placed an important limitation on the first major Supreme Court case concerning school busing, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971), by holding that such remedies could extend across district lines only where there was actual evidence that multiple districts had deliberately engaged in a policy of segregation.


The Bench

The makeup of the supreme court and their opinions were:


Concurring Opinion

  • Written by: Justice Stewart


  • Written by: Justice Marshall
  • Joined by: Justices Douglas, Brennan and White

The Decision

In a 5-to-4 decision, the Court held that "[w]ith no showing of significant violation by the 53 outlying school districts and no evidence of any interdistrict violation or effect," the district court's remedy was "wholly impermissible" and not justified by Brown v. Board of Education. The Court noted that desegregation, "in the sense of dismantling a dual school system," did not require "any particular racial balance in each 'school, grade or classroom.'" The Court also emphasized the importance of local control over the operation of schools.

This decision exempted suburban districts from assisting in the desegregation of inner-city school systems, and subsequently reinforced the existing trend of "white flight" from cities to suburban school districts. In other terms, the Court implicitly corraled Brown by limiting Brown's holding to the banning of de jure coercive intradistrict segregation, while allowing de facto segregation by school district lines that resulted from voluntary residential segregation.

Justice Douglas' dissenting opinion held that:

"Today's decision ... means that there is no violation of the Equal Protection Clause though the schools are segregated by race and though the black schools are not only separate but inferior." (emphasis added)
"Michigan by one device or another has over the years created black school districts and white school districts, the task of equity is to provide a unitary system for the affected area where, as here, the State washes its hands of its own creations."

Despite the Court's decision in Milliken, court-supervised school desegregation plans were implemented regularly throughout the 1970s and 1980s, and remain in effect in a handful of U.S. cities and metropolitan areas as of 2005.

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