ATLANTA — A federal appeals court on Tuesday overturned a judge's ruling that there were "vestiges of segregation" in Alabama colleges and universities.
The three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the case sent back to U.S. District Court in Alabama for new proceedings before a different judge.
The court said U.S. District Judge U. W. Clemon should have disqualified himself from deciding the case because he "actively participated in the very events and shaped the very facts that are at issue in this suit."
Clemon, the first black federal judge in Alabama, ruled in 1985 that several mostly white colleges and the Alabama Board of Education were guilty of racial bias. He was forced to delay proceedings to determine a remedy when Auburn University, Troy State, the University of Alabama and the state school board filed an appeal.
In the case, predominantly black Alabama A&M argued that the state curtailed its ability to attract white students by giving more money to mostly white schools such as Auburn and by duplicating programs at two newer white schools. Alabama State University, another predominantly black school, said it faces similar problems in Montgomery.
In oral arguments in March, attorneys with the U.S. Justice Department charged that Alabama's state colleges remain segregated because of funding discrepancies and because new colleges were created to lure white students from nearby black institutions. They said the Civil Rights Act prohibits federally funded programs from discriminating.
But attorneys for the state of Alabama and many of its colleges argued that the Justice Department cannot use Title VI of the Civil Rights Act without showing examples of discrimination in specific federally funded programs.
The three-judge panel sharply criticized both sides in the case for failing to settle the matter out of court, saying, "Their failure of leadership . . . leaves by default the responsibility with the courts."
The court also noted that Clemon formerly served in the state Senate as chairman of the Rules Committee. In that role, the court said, "Judge Clemon played a critical role in the confirmation of those individuals nominated for positions on the board of trustees of the defendant institutions."