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Federal Appellate Court Orders Parties in Maryland Litigation Involving Historically Black Institutions to Settle Dispute Over College Segregation

For Immediate Release January 3, 2019

RICHMOND, VA – On January 2, 2019, the three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit of U.S. Court of Appeals that heard argument last month from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Kirkland & Ellis LLP in an appeal brought by the state of Maryland in The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, ordered the plaintiffs and the state of Maryland to participate in settlement discussions.

“We are pleased that the Fourth Circuit recognized the legitimacy of our claim and its importance to our clients and the citizens of Maryland,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We will approach this process with the intent of reaching a settlement that works for all concerned parties and hope that Maryland will do the same. This case stands as one of the most important higher education desegregation cases in the last few decades with the potential to bring long, overdue relief for students.”

“The judges’ order is welcome,” said Michael D. Jones, partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP, which also represents plaintiffs.  “The order kind of lights a fire under the process and asks the mediator to give a report.  I believe there is a path forward and hopefully Maryland is sufficiently motivated to get there.”

“Given the legal gravity of this case, the ruling by the Fourth Circuit reaffirms our long-standing commitment to mediate in good faith and fairness with the State. We trust that the Maryland will now do the same,” said David Burton, president of the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education.

The case stands as one of the most significant higher education desegregation cases in the last two decades. The plaintiffs in this long-standing constitutional challenge by a coalition of students and alumni of the Maryland’s four Historically Black Institutions (HBIs) had prevailed in 2013 when, after a six-week liability trial, U.S. District Court judge Catherine C. Blake found that Maryland had failed to desegregate its HBCUs by allowing traditionally white schools to duplicate programs at the HBIs.  In 2017, Judge Blake imposed a remedy on the defendants after a seven-week remedial trial.

During the 4th Circuit oral argument in December 2018 before Judges J. Harvie Wilkinson III, G. Steven Agee, and Stephanie D. Thacker, most of the argument focused on the remedial issues and not on liability. The judges strongly implored the parties to settle.  Yesterday’s order formalized the process by requiring the parties to meet with the 4th Circuit mediator, required the mediator to report to the court every thirty days, and set an April 30, 2019 deadline for the mediation process.  In the order, the court stated that absent settlement, “the parties will likely condemn themselves to endless years of acrimonious, divisive and expensive litigation that will only work to the detriment of higher education in Maryland.”  Previous efforts to settle the case before the liability trial, remedial trial, and the 4th Circuit argument were all unsuccessful.


About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination.  Now in its 56th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.



Derrick Robinson, Lawyers’ Committee, [email protected], 202-662-8317


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