Comfort v. Lynn

418 F.3d 1
Brief Filed: 6/04
Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Year of Decision: 2005

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 2.2MB)

Issue

This case addresses a school voluntary desegregation plan in Lynn, Mass., that uses race as a factor in assigning children to K-12 schools in the event that they request a school transfer

Index Topic

Affirmative Action

Facts

This case involves a school voluntary desegregation plan in Lynn, Mass., that uses race as a factor in assigning children to K-12 schools in the event that they request a school transfer. The Lynn Plan allows every student to attend his or her neighborhood school but encourages elective transfers to promote integration (including by the creation of educationally-themed schools) and does not permit transfers that increase segregation (with some individual exceptions for hardships). Plaintiffs in the district court case, the parents of elementary school children denied transfers, challenged the Lynn Plan as unconstitutional. The plaintiffs conceded that reducing racial isolation and educating students to be citizens in a multiracial nation are important goals and that the Lynn schools have vastly improved since implementation of the plan, but argued that neither of these goals is sufficiently compelling to justify the race-conscious school transfer policy. The parties to the case also stipulated that the education provided in each of the schools in Lynn is comparable in quality, resources, and curriculum. However, they argued that a racially-neutral plan could have achieved the same results without integrated classrooms. The plaintiffs asked the district court to invalidate the Lynn Plan and enjoin the Lynn Schools from employing race in making transfer decisions.

The district court found that legally the Plan should be judged under a less strict test of “intermediate scrutiny” but that the Lynn Schools had met the burden even if a strict scrutiny test were used. It found that promoting racial and ethnic diversity, remedying the effects of “de facto” residential segregation, and fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board of Education were compelling state interests and that the Plan was narrowly tailored to achieve them with no race-neutral alternatives available. The plaintiffs then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

APA's Position

APA’s brief to the First Circuit in support of the Lynn School District presented social, psychological and developmental research as a backdrop for the court’s consideration of the Plan. Central to the discussion was the “Intergroup Contact Hypothesis,” including recent meta-analytic research linking intergroup contact under appropriate conditions with decreased levels of intergroup prejudice. The brief also educated the court concerning some of the processes involved in prejudice and discriminatory behavior, including negative stereotypes, in-group bias, aversive racism, intergroup anxiety, and implicit stereotypes. The relationship between cross-race friendships and reduced prejudice and negative stereotypes in children, and the importance of intergroup contract for the development of children’s social and moral reasoning were also included to assist the court’s thinking. Finally, the brief discussed the ineffectiveness of several alternatives to the Plan advanced by the appellants related to their argument that integrated classrooms were not necessary.

Result

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit determined that legally the Plan should be judged under a strict scrutiny standard and would therefore only be constitutional if narrowly tailored to further a compelling state interest. The panel then concluded that the Lynn Plan was not narrowly tailored to meet that interest. The Lynn School Committee, et al. petitioned for a rehearing and the petition was granted. In June 2005, a full panel of the judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the Lynn voluntary school plan. In applying the Supreme Court’s rulings in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger to the context of K-12, the federal court in a 3-2 ruling found the Lynn Plan to be “narrowly tailored to meet this compelling interest.” The Court’s decision vacates the earlier ruling by the three-judge panel which had declared the plan unconstitutional.