Ayers Plaintiffs Ask Appeals Court to Throw Out Desegregation Pact

Ayers Plaintiffs Ask Appeals Court to Throw Out Desegregation Pact

JACKSON, Miss.

A federal appeals court has been asked to throw out the settlement of Mississippi’s college desegregation case and start the process from step one.

Attorney Alvin Chambliss asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to schedule a hearing on demands from plaintiffs opposed to last year’s deal.

Chambliss had until Feb. 19 to file briefs or the appeals court threatened to dismiss the case. He filed the 50-page appeal on the deadline day.

Chambliss, who has represented plaintiffs in the case for more than 20 years, now represents Lillie Ayers, the widow of the man who filed the lawsuit, along with some professors and alumni. The group says the settlement is unfair and far short of what the late Jake Ayers Sr. desired (see Black Issues, Jan. 16).

Pam Smith, assistant higher education commissioner, said earlier this month that the College Board attorneys had until March 26 to reply to Chambliss’ briefs. Chambliss would then have time to respond to the state. She said the board’s attorneys believe it could be mid-April before the 5th Circuit decides whether to hold a hearing.

The college desegregation case originated in 1975 when Jake Ayers sued the state, accusing Mississippi of neglecting its Black universities for decades. Plaintiffs successfully demanded that more money be put into the historically Black institutions to end discrimination. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed and ordered remedies.

U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. signed the $503 million settlement of the case in February 2002, a month after the Mississippi Legislature pledged to fulfill its requirements.

The settlement calls for $246 million to be spent over 17 years on academic programs at Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State universities. Another $75 million would go to capital improvement projects, $70 million to public endowments and up to $35 million in private endowments. Other programs, including summer classes for struggling students, will receive the balance.

In his brief, Chambliss specifically said plaintiffs want a pharmacy school, a law school and an engineering school established at Jackson State University. The plaintiffs also want Jackson State to share control of the University of Mississippi Medical Center with Ole Miss.

He said Alcorn State University should be brought up to the same land grant status as Mississippi State University, with which it competes for agricultural science programs. Chambliss said Alcorn and Mississippi Valley should have nursing schools on par with other programs.

Chambliss also attacked Biggers’ decision to bar Lillie Ayers and other plaintiffs from opting out of the settlement and pursue a separate appeal.

“Plaintiffs have been denied their First Amendment right to express their opinion about the settlement agreement. In fact, if they were allowed to speak, they would clearly establish that racial discrimination still exists in the State of Mississippi’s system of higher education,” Chambliss wrote in the appeal.

Chambliss also argued that the settlement includes no oversight by a federal court and leaving the College Board in charge is similar to “putting the fox in the hen house.”



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