Nixon, The Supreme Court, and Busing
The two terms of President Nixon’s administration faced a myriad of issues related to Civil Rights. One among these, which consistently provoked RN’s reaction, was that of busing, a system the Supreme Court mandated throughout the country in order to end racial segregation in the nation’s schools.
The busing issue arose once again in the case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, in which the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of busing to help integrate the schools. In 1954, with its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court had previously reversed the decade old Plessy v. Ferguson ruling—establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine—and by 1970, the Supreme Court decided that segregation end in the South. RN publicly expressed his disapproval of busing, but as president he understood his responsibility to carry out the Court’s wishes.
During a press conference on April 29, 1971, a reporter asked President Nixon if he approved of “the mandatory use of busing to overcome racial segregation.” ruled by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg. RN responded by saying, “I expressed views with regard to my opposition to busing for the purpose of achieving racial balance, and in support of the neighborhood school in my statement of March of last year.”
However, RN follows up his response with a comment supporting the Supreme Court and its decision: “Now that the Supreme Court has spoken on that issue, whatever I have said that is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s decision is now moot and irrelevant, because everybody in this country, including the President of the United States, is under the law[.]”
Although the Court upheld the constitutionality of lower courts issuing busing orders, RN distinguishes the two types of segregation that exist in the nation: de jure and de facto segregation. The first type of segregation is de jure, or, in RN’s words, instances “where we have segregation in schools as a result of governmental action”; this type of segregation he believed busing “can be used under certain circumstances to deal with that problem.”
RN then states that “the Court explicitly by dictums did not deal with the problem of de facto segregation…which was a result, not of what a governmental body did, but as a result of housing patterns coming from individual decisions.” President Nixon thought these distinctions were significant because the Court did not rule in de facto segregation, and until it did he “[does] not believe that busing to achieve racial balance is in the interests of better education. Where it is de jure, we comply with the court. Where it is de facto, until the court speaks, that still remains my view.”
Even though President Nixon was personally against the busing policy, he complied with the Court’s ruling, and continue working to end segregation throughout the nation.
The busing issue continued to be a large topic all throughout the election of 1972, but RN explains to the reporter “that we will work with the Southern school districts, not in a spirit of coercion, but one of cooperation, as we have during the past year in which so much progress has been made in getting rid of that kind of a system that we have had previously.” President Nixon throughout the rest of his presidency, would make moves to help end segregation peacefully in the nation.