Justices Allow Busing Plan to End : Black Parents Denied Injunction Against Norfolk Board
The Supreme Court, in a setback for civil rights forces, refused Monday to bar officials from dismantling a 15-year-old cross-town busing program used to desegregate public elementary schools in Norfolk, Va.
The court turned down an emergency plea from a group of black parents for an injunction that would require busing to continue next fall, until the justices act on their appeal of a lower court ruling approving a new plan that assigns students to the schools nearest their homes.
The Norfolk case drew nationwide attention when the Reagan Administration joined forces with the local school board in seeking an end to busing on the grounds that the school system now has been successfully desegregated and that further busing would only cause more whites to leave the district.
The black parents, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, say that the earlier approval of the board’s new neighborhood plan by a federal appellate court could lead to the “resegregation” of public schools in the South.
The justices took no action on the appeal of that ruling--and it is possible they will not do so next October, when the neighborhood plan already would be well under way. If the court agrees to hear the case, a decision would not be likely until early 1987.
The refusal to grant the injunction came in a brief order (Riddick vs. School Board of Norfolk, 85-1962), with only Justices Thurgood Marshall and Harry A. Blackmun voting in favor. Justice John Paul Stevens voted to expedite consideration of the appeal and postpone action on the injunction until the court ruled on the appeal.
A federal district court first ordered busing in Norfolk in 1971 after finding that school authorities had operated a “dual,” or racially segregated, system. In 1975, however, the court declared the system “unitary,” or desegregated, and released it from court supervision.
The school board elected to continue busing, but in 1983, in the wake of substantial “white flight,” it voted to adopt a neighborhood plan for elementary schools. The schools were 60% white in 1971 and now are 57% black.
Opponents brought suit against the new plan, but a federal district court ruled in favor of the board and the decision was upheld last February by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. The head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, William Bradford Reynolds, said that the neighborhood plan was a valid means of reducing white flight and returning local control to the schools.
Seeking an injunction, lawyers for the black parents said that under the new pupil assignment plan to begin this fall, 10 of the system’s 35 elementary schools would become at least 97% black--and that nearly 40% of all black pupils would be attending those 10 virtually segregated schools.
Attorneys for the school board countered that most black pupils would still be attending desegregated schools--and that any black student enrolled in a school more than 70% black will be free to transfer to a school where blacks are in the minority.
The seven-member board--three of whom are black--is unanimously backing the new plan, the lawyers said, arguing that an injunction at this late stage would have a substantial adverse impact on students, parents, teachers and administrators.
James M. Nabrit III of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund expressed disappointment with the court’s action Monday, saying that the group now will await action on the appeal. Jack E. Greer, an attorney for the board, said board members are “pleased and relieved” with the court’s refusal to grant an injunction.
In other action Monday, the justices:
--Left intact a federal appeals court ruling requiring school districts in Little Rock, Ark., to alter their boundaries to further racial desegregation and ordering the state board of education to help pay the cost of the desegregation plan (Pulaski County vs. Little Rock, 85-1316; Arkansas Board vs. Little Rock, 85-1547).
--Refused to reinstate a $44-million libel suit brought by retired Army Lt. Col. Anthony Herbert against CBS and others, bringing an apparent end to a celebrated 12-year legal struggle. Herbert contended that a 1973 CBS News broadcast of “60 Minutes,” which recounted his claims of U.S. atrocities committed during the Vietnam War, falsely portrayed him as a liar. Herbert’s case never went to trial, but in 1979 the justices held that Herbert and other public figures who bring libel suits were entitled to probe the “state of mind” of journalists when they prepared their reports.
Finally, a federal appeals panel in New York dismissed the suit last January, finding CBS had presented sufficient support to defend the main point of its story on Herbert, even if some “subsidiary” statements remained in dispute (Herbert vs. Lando, 85-1685).
--Refused to prevent the deportation of Boleslavs Maikovskis, a chief of police in Latvia during the German occupation in World War II who faces a death sentence in the Soviet Union for Nazi war crimes. Maikovskis, an 82-year-old resident of New York, was found guilty in absentia in a Soviet court for collaborating in the deaths of thousands of Jews in Latvia (Maikovskis vs. INS, 85-1483).