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Washington v. Seattle School District

Legal Remedies

Following the passage of Initiative 350, its constitutionality under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was challenged by the district in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. The district court upheld the school's claim, noting that the most overcrowded schools in the district were those with the highest percentage of minority students, and that Initiative 350 would remove any possibility of racial integration within the district. Furthermore, the district court found that virtually all types of busing would be allowable under Initiative 350, with the exception of busing to achieve racial integration. Because it singled out busing for racial integration, Initiative 350 created a constitutionally impermissible racial classification of a type prohibited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hunter v. Erickson, (1969). In that case the Court ruled that a referendum passed by the electorate of Akron, Ohio, to override an Akron City Council fair housing ordinance was unconstitutional because the referendum singled out a particular type of ordinance, namely, a fair housing statute, for special treatment. Initiative 350 was also judged to be overly broad, since it would prohibit school districts from redressing de jure segregation, that is, segregation caused by deliberate state action, as well as de facto segregation.

The case then proceeded to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit which affirmed the ruling of the district court, while also noting that Initiative 350 inappropriately removed the power to determine school policy from the local school board. The court of appeals also observed that it would be permissible for a successor school board to abandon the Seattle Plan, but that in this case "a different government body--the state-wide electorate--rescinded a policy voluntarily enacted by locally elected school boards already subject to local political control." In the wake of the court of appeals' decision, the state of Washington appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments in the matter on 22 March 1982.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Washington v. Seattle School District - Significance, A Thorny Problem, Resistance To Change, Legal Remedies, The Power Of The State