Monday, October 7, 2013
Nearly a decade ago, a few graduates and current students from Maryland's historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), along with a local attorney or two, began questioning the funding and expansion practices of the state's entire university and college system. They filed suit, but soon found they were in for an enormous fight and needed more legal resources. With the help of John Brittain, the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic agreed to take on the case. Professor Aderson Francois and his law students largely carried the law suit in the early days. They were later joined by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and pro bono attorneys from Kirkland and Ellis.
Yesterday, the plaintiffs' long road resulted in a victory. The United States District Court for Maryland found in Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education v. Maryland Higher Education Commission that, in fact, the state had engaged in unconstitutional action in regard to Maryland's HBCUs. The court rejected plaintiffs' claims that the state's funding practices were unconstitutional, but, on the all important issue of the overall structure of the Maryland system, the court wrote:
I find the plaintiffs have prevailed in establishing current policies and practices of unnecessary program duplication that continue to have a segregative effect as to which the State has not established sound educational justification. Remedies will be required.
In other words, the State formerly operated a de jure segregated higher education system. The constitution imposes a duty on the state to dismantle that system. The state's current practice of creating and expanding new programs at historically white institutions, which duplicate already existing programs at HBCUs that are right down the road, has the effect of keeping Maryland's colleges and universities segregated. By doing so, it is violating its constitutional duty to disestablish segregation.
The court did not issue a specific remedy, but directed the parties to enter into mediation and come up with a plan to current the system's deficiencies.