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U.S. Supreme Court

Wright v. Council of City of Emporia, 407 U.S. 451 (1972)

Wright v. Council of City of Emporia

No. 70-188

Argued March 1, 1972

Decided June 22, 1972

407 U.S. 451


In 1967, Emporia, Virginia, which is located in the center of Greensville County, changed from a "town" to a politically independent "city" authorized by state law to provide its own public school system. By a shared-cost agreement with the county, Emporia in 1968 continued an arrangement, which antedated its change of status, to use the county public school system for education of its children. As a consequence of the present desegregation lawsuit initiated in 1965, the single school division was operating under a "freedom of choice" plan approved by the District Court. Petitioners moved to modify that plan following this Court's decision in Green v. County School Board, 391 U. S. 430. The District Court, after a hearing, on June 25, 1969, ordered petitioners' "pairing" plan to take effect as of the start of the 1969-1970 school year. Two weeks after entry of the District Court's decree, the city announced its plan to operate a separate school system and sought termination of the 1968 agreement. On August 1, 1969, petitioners filed a supplemental complaint seeking to enjoin the city council and school board (named as additional parties defendant) from withdrawing Emporia children from the county schools. Following hearings, the District Court found that the effect of Emporia's withdrawal would be a "substantial increase in the proportion of whites in the schools attended by city residents, and a concomitant decrease in the county schools." In addition to the disparity in racial percentages, the court found that the proportion of whites in county schools might drop as county school whites shifted to private academies, while some whites might return to city schools from the academies they previously attended; that two formerly all-white schools (both better equipped and better located than the county schools) are in Emporia, while all the schools in the surrounding county were formerly all-Negro; and that Emporia, which long had the right to establish a separate school system, did not decide to do so until the court's order prevented the county from continuing its long-maintained segregated school system. The court concluded that Emporia's withdrawal would frustrate the June 25 decree, and enjoined respondents from chanrobles.com-red

Page 407 U. S. 452

pursuing their plan. Holding that the question whether new school district boundaries should be permitted in areas with a history of state-enforced racial segregation must be resolved in terms of the "dominant purpose of [the] boundary realignment," the Court of Appeals concluded that Emporia's primary purpose was "benign," and not a mere "cover-up" for racial discrimination, and reversed.


1. In determining whether realignment of school districts by officials comports with the requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment, courts will be guided not by the motivation of the officials, but by the effect of their action. Pp. 407 U. S. 461-462.

2. In the totality of the circumstances of this case, the District Court was justified in concluding that Emporia's establishment of a separate school system would impede the process of dismantling the segregated school system. Pp. 407 U. S. 463-471.

442 F.2d 570, reversed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 407 U. S. 471.


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