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Segregation - Yonkers, New York, Battles Segregation

city court trial housing

In 1980, the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT and the Yonkers branch of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a civil lawsuit against the city of Yonkers, New York, the Yonkers School Board, and the Yonkers Community Development Agency, charging that the city had engaged in systematic segregation for the previous 30 years. The plaintiffs alleged that the city government had disproportionately restricted new subsidized housing projects to certain areas of the city already heavily populated by minorities. The case marked the first time racial segregation charges were levied against housing and school officials in the same suit.

After years of preparation and a three-month trial, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the defendants had in fact segregated the city's housing and schools based on racial identity. United States v. Yonkers Board of Education 624 F.Supp. 1276 (S.D.N.Y. 1985). The city was ordered to designate sites for public housing by November 1986, but the city refused to comply during the appeals process. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the RACIAL DISCRIMINATION rulings (837 F.2d 1181 [2nd Cir. 1987]) but did not resolve the compliance issue. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the city's petition for certiorari, and in January 1988 the parties agreed to a CONSENT DECREE that established a new housing plan. The Yonkers city council voted to approve the decree, which was submitted to the trial court and accepted. The city was to pass legislation outlining the new housing plan within 90 days.

The city did not pass the legislation by the deadline, and the JUSTICE DEPARTMENT and the Yonkers NAACP submitted a "Long-Term Plan Order" to the trial court, which ordered the city to pass the legislation by August 1, 1988. The city council did vote, but the measure was defeated 4–3. The trial court held the city and the council in CONTEMPT, a move affirmed by the Second Circuit. The city requested a stay of the sanctions from the Supreme Court. The stay was granted, but only for the individual council members; the city incurred stiff fines totaling nearly $1 million per day. The council, by a vote of 5–2, enacted an Affordable Housing Ordinance on September 9, 1988. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that the trial court had the right to sanction the city, but it had overstepped its bounds in sanctioning the individual council members. Spallone v. United States, 493 U.S. 265, 111 S. Ct 625, 107, L. Ed. 2d 644 (1990).

In 1993, the Yonkers Board of Education and the Yonkers NAACP reactivated the original case, alleging that while the city schools were no longer pursuing policies that were pursued or implemented in a racially-identifiable manner, vestiges of segregation remained. The plaintiffs included the state of New York in this new suit because, they believed, the state had exacerbated the problem by continually underfunding Yonkers. The trial court agreed with the plaintiffs about the segregation and found that the city needed additional money to carry out meaningful desegregation. The court refused to hold the state of New York fiscally responsible because the state had never affirmatively participated in the segregation. United States v. Yonkers Board of Education, 880 F. Supp. 212 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).

The Second Circuit appeals court vacated the trial court's decision regarding the state's fiscal responsibility, holding that the state had a fiscal obligation to alleviate segregation in Yonkers. United States v. Yonkers Board of Education, 96 F.3d 600 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. Denied 117 U.S. 2479, 138 L. Ed.2d 988 (1996). Still another trial ensued. The state attempted to prove that there were no vestiges of segregation in the Yonkers public schools, but the court thought otherwise and ordered the city and the state to share in the costs of a second desegregation plan—devised by the court—called the "Educational Improvement Plan." United States v. Yonkers Board of Education, 984 F. Supp 687, 123 Ed. Law Rep 544 (1997) (S.D.N.Y.).

The next several years saw little agreement over progress or culpability, but the parties pushed on in the hope of reaching common ground. Early in 2002 a pact was announced that would provide $300 million in state funding to the school district over a five-year period, to be used to fund programs that boost academic achievement for all city students. Under the terms of the agreement, a monitor was supposed to be assigned to ensure that the school district was living up to its promises. As of March 2003 the district had been unsuccessful in filling the position, which led some observers to question its commitment to the pact.

FURTHER READINGS

Feld, Jayne J. 2003. "Schools Reopen Search for Desegregation Pact Monitor." Journal News (March 25).

Reid, Karla Scoon. 2002. "Yonkers Desegregation Suit May Be Nearing End." Education Week (January 16).

CROSS-REFERENCES

Civil Rights Acts; Discrimination.

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