January 15th, 1991

Supreme Court Ends School Integration Order in Oklahoma City

In 1972, a federal court ordered the Board of Education of Oklahoma City Schools to adopt a bussing program to desegregate the city's public schools in compliance with the United States Supreme Court's desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The school board complied for five years and then filed a motion to lift the order. The federal court found that integration had been achieved, granted the motion, and ended the bussing program.

In 1984, the school board adopted a new student assignment plan that significantly reduced bussing and re-segregated Oklahoma City schools. Local parents of African American students initiated litigation challenging the new assignment plan and asking for reinstatement of the 1972 bussing decree. In 1989, the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reinstituted the decree, and the school board appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

On January 15, 1991, the Court declared in a 5-3 decision written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist that federal desegregation injunctions were intended to be temporary. Despite troubling evidence that Oklahoma City schools were re-segregating under the district's new plan, the Court sent the case back to the lower federal court for assessment under a less stringent standard, which ultimately permitted the school board to proceed with the new plan. Justice Thurgood Marshall, joined by Justices Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens, argued in dissent that a desegregation decree should not be lifted when doing so recreates segregated "conditions likely to inflict the stigmatic injury condemned in Brown."