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The Limited Influence of Social Science Evidence in Modern Desegregation Cases

James E. Ryan

University of Virginia School of Law

December 2002

UVA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 02-18

In footnote eleven of the Brown opinion, the Supreme Court famously cited social science evidence in support of the proposition that segregated schools harmed African-American students. This footnote ignited a debate over both the quality of the research cited and the extent to which it influenced the outcome of the case. While this tired debate continues today, surprisingly little attention has been devoted to the significance of social science evidence in contemporary desegregation cases. These cases concern the dismantling of desegregation decrees and the constitutionality of voluntary integration plans.

This Essay argues that the influence of social science evidence depends on three factors: the legal standards applied, the nature and strength of the social science evidence presented, and the nature of the issues presented. For both sets of modern desegregation cases, each of these factors points against the likelihood that social science evidence plays much of a role in determining the outcomes of the cases. After discussing the two main sets of modern desegregation cases, this Essay goes on to explore the potential role of social science evidence in related challenges to socioeconomic integration plans, state-based claims for integrated schools, and disparate impact claims under Title VI regulations. Although these programs and legal claims may offer slightly more room for social science evidence to play an influential role, this Essay argues that the ability of social science evidence to influence the outcome of any relevant court decisions remains fairly limited.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 51

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Date posted: November 30, 2002  

Suggested Citation

Ryan, James E., The Limited Influence of Social Science Evidence in Modern Desegregation Cases (December 2002). UNC Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=353702 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.353702

Contact Information

James E. Ryan (Contact Author)
University of Virginia School of Law ( email )
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-3572 (Phone)
434-924-7536 (Fax)

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