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Maryland Historically Black Colleges and Universities Litigation

General Information:

The Lawyers’ Committee and partners represent plaintiffs in The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, a case that alleges that Maryland has failed to dismantle the vestiges of segregation from its prior de jure system of higher education.  Plaintiffs include prospective students, current students, and alumni of the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Prior to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, Maryland operated a de jure system of segregation in higher education between white and black students.  This system forced black students to attend schools that were insufficiently funded, provided inferior facilities, and lacked the programmatic opportunities offered at the traditionally white schools in the system.  Even after Brown prohibited segregation in education, Maryland failed to adequately remedy this disparity.

In 2000, Maryland entered into a Partnership Agreement with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) to bring the state into compliance with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Maryland has failed to meet its commitments under the agreement.   The state’s continuing failures to the HBCUs span the areas of funding, capital improvements, and unnecessary program duplication.  An extensive record documents the state’s failed efforts to enhance its historically black colleges and universities in a manner that would allow them to become comparable and competitive with Maryland’s traditionally white institutions (TWIs).

At issue in this case is whether the State of Maryland has successfully dismantled the vestiges of its segregated system of higher education.  The suit seeks equality between the state’s HBCUs and its traditionally white schools to ensure that all students attending Maryland’s public colleges and universities receive a quality education.  Specifically, plaintiffs want the state to stop allowing traditionally white schools to duplicate programs at the HBCUs, the development of unique programs at the HBCUs, and funds for needed capital improvements.

The Plaintiffs are represented by Chief Counsel Jon Greenbaum and Senior Counsel Brenda Shum from the Lawyers’ Committee; Michael Jones, Karen Walker, Savaria Harris, Alexandra Peurach, Henry Thompson, and Paloma Zepada from Kirkland & Ellis LLP; and John Brittain from the UDC School of Law.


Recent Developments:

In the fall of 2011, the parties engaged in mediation with Judge Paul Grimm. The HBCU presidents were invited to comment on both the Plaintiffs’ demands and the Defendants’ counter-proposal. Each offered specific comments describing the disparities on their campuses and the State’s failure to remedy the ongoing vestiges of discrimination experienced by their students.

By September 2011, Judge Grimm conceded the parties were not on track to successfully mediate an agreement. He canceled the proposed October mediation date and encouraged Plaintiffs to prepare for trial. Plaintiffs immediately requested that Judge Catherine Blake convene a status conference to revise the pre-trial schedule and address outstanding pre-trial motions.

On November 10, 2011 Judge Blake held a telephonic status conference to address exhibits, witnesses, and outstanding pre-trial matters. She ordered the parties to submit their joint pre-trial order on November 30, and scheduled the pre-trial conference for December 13 and 14. The six-week trial is scheduled to begin on January 3, 2012.

On November 21, 2011 Defendants produced over a thousand pages of additional documents which they claim to have just discovered when moving their office to Baltimore. Plaintiffs are still reviewing those documents but have already identified several which will be useful to the case. Plaintiffs are revising their exhibit list accordingly and the parties will meet and confer on November 28 to finalize the pre-trial order.

The long-awaited trial in the matter of The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et al., began on January 3, 2012 and concluded on February 9th.  In the course of the six week trial, Judge Catherine Blake heard lengthy testimony identifying the ongoing segregative effects at the HBCUs produced by Maryland’s policies and practices related to institutional missions, funding, and program duplication.

On June 6, 2012 after completing its review of six weeks of trial testimony and over a thousand documents that had been entered into evidence, the trial team submitted their findings of fact and conclusions of law to the court.  The Coalition’s findings of fact and conclusions of law was a lengthy document containing a thorough discussion of the development of Maryland’s higher education system and key events allowing for the continued existence of a segregated system in the state.  The document also contained a detailed description of the persistent inequality between the HBCUs and TWIs in terms of missions, programs, funding, and infrastructure.  The state’s findings of fact and conclusions of law was far shorter than the Coalition’s and devoted much of its content to a discussion of the Plaintiffs’ standing.

On October 7, 2013, Federal District Judge Catherine Blake ruled that Maryland has violated the constitutional rights of students at Maryland’s four Historically Black Institutions (HBIs) by unnecessarily duplicating their programs at nearby white institutions.  Judge Blake did not order a specific remedy but provided direction for the parties to consider in developing a remedy.  The court stated that a likely remedy will include “expansion of mission and program uniqueness and institutional identity at the HBIs.”  Judge Blake further concluded that as a remedy for Maryland’s constitutional violations “it is also likely that the transfer or merger of select high demand programs from [traditionally white institutions] to HBIs will be necessary.”  Any new programs at the HBIs will require specially trained faculty and may require special facilities and other support to be effective.

New Recent Developments:

Following the issuance of Judge Blake’s October 2013 memorandum opinion, she ordered the Coalition and the state of Maryland to enter into mediation talks with the goal of crafting an appropriate remedy. The mediation talks ended fairly quickly, as it became apparent that, by virtue of the recommendations it offered, the state did not adequately appreciate the court’s finding that Maryland had violated its constitutional obligation to desegregate its four HBCUs. The judge subsequently instructed the parties to prepare and submit remedial proposals to satisfy her liability opinion.

After a number of delays and postponements, the state ultimately shared its remedial proposal in November 2015; the main tenets of this proposal included a summer program for high school students, to increase their knowledge of and interest in the HBCUs, and a $10 million collaborative fund for which the HBCUs and the TWIs could all compete. The Coalition crafted a remedy focused on establishing niches at each of the HBCUs filled with high-demand, unique programs to attract more other-race students and achieve desegregation.

Equipped with the proposals of both parties, in February 2016, Judge Blake set aside six weeks for the remedial phase of the trial in January and February 2017. The parties reconvened in Baltimore on January 9, 2017 to kick off the evidentiary hearing on remedies, and the proceedings concluded on February 22, 2017. As the case currently stands, the parties will submit findings of fact and conclusions of law for the remedial phase by the end of April, and the closing arguments will be held either during the last week of May or the first week of June. To date, the state of Maryland has spent approximately $2.2 million defending this case since it was originally filed in 2006.


Court-Related Materials:

New Court-Related Materials:


Additional Reading:

To learn more about the background of this case and current issues, please read the articles available at this link.

For additional background information, please see: Maryland’s Final Report to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (June 2006)> (the 1999 Partnership Agreement Checklist of Commitments by the State of Maryland is included as Attachment A of the file) and the Final Report to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education (Fall 2008).  The White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Programmay also be of interest.

For recent updates regarding the pending judiciary decision in the Maryland Historically Black Colleges and Universities lawsuit, please reference HBCU Equality Lawsuit: Budgetary Promise vs. Judiciary Mandate or Both.

New Additional Reading:

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