Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education
Luke Largess, along with James Ferguson and others at Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter, represented the class of black families in the 1999 trial and later appeals in the historic Charlotte school desegregation case, originally known as Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education, and later as Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education.
The original Swann case, which was filed in 1965 in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, North Carolina, led to the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1971 that extensive busing was an acceptable means for desegregating Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. That ruling paved the way for busing in school districts across the nation where it was deemed necessary to bring about an end to segregated educational systems.
Sparked by a lawsuit filed in 1997 by a white parent, William Capacchione, who challenged the school board’s use of racial quotas to draw more African American students to magnet schools, a group of black families moved to reactivate the Swann case in what became known as Belk v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education. Mr. Capacchione and another group of white families intervened and the cases were consolidated.
The case was tried for two-months in federal district court before Judge Robert Potter in 1999. The case was then appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. After a hearing before an en banc panel, the 4th Circuit ruled that Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools had achieved unitary status in that prior vestiges of racial discrimination had been eliminated to the extent practicable; that the school board acted in good faith in implementing quotas to achieve racial balance in magnet schools; that the white parent-intervenors were not entitled to attorney fees; and that the injunction to eliminate the use of racial quotas was lifted against the school board, as there was no showing that the school board would not comply with a race neutral system in the future.