A U.S. district judge in Louisiana began contempt of court proceedings yesterday against a state judge who has been escorting white students to a predominantly white school in difiance of a federal desegregation order.
Alexandria Judge Richard Lee faces a fine of $1,000 a day for his actions.During the past week, Lee has countermanded a direct federal order blocking the girls' admission to the white school, used state troopers and constables to enforce his own order and personally appeared to accompany the girls into the school.
The confrontation originated when the parents of the children sought and received Lee's permission to place them under the guardianship of families living in the school's attendance zone. It was an acknowledged effort to prevent their being bused 13 to 15 miles to a racially mixed school.
Lee described his actions as a long-overdue assertion of state authority against federal intrusion and said he would appeal any contempt citation to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said in an interview that he would take no further steps to force admission of the white girls, however, until the contempt hearing is held Jan. 15. "The media is causing immense disruption at the school," he said in explaining his decision to postpone further confrontations.
The parents, guardians and school officials were also ordered to appear to answer contempt charges by U.S. District Court Judge Nauman Scott in Alexandria. Scott acted yesterday at the request of the Justice Department.
While state authorities often contest federal busing orders through the courts, open defiance of federal mandates has rarely surfaced since the dramatic 1960s faceoffs of governors George Wallace in Alabama and Orval Faubus in Arkansas.
The dispute began with an elaborate but open maneuver by the parents to circumvent Scott's August order, which would have meant busing their daughters, ages 12 and 13, to the desegregated Jones Street Junior High School. The parents obtained authority from Lee to place their children under the guardianship of family friends who lived in a zone where children could legally attend the predominantly white Buckeye Junior-Senior High School. The girls actually moved away from their parents.
The parents said Scott heard about the action through an anonymous phone call and, calling the guardianships a "sham," ordered the school system to admit the girls only to the racially mixed school. Lee then ordered the school officials to admit them to Buckeye, and this week he ordered the troopers and constables to enforce his will.
Lee also personally appeared at the school Tuesday and yesterday to escort the students.
Lee said yesterday that his order was based on the right of states to control domestic cases, like guardianship, independent of Federal intervention. He retained as his attorney Dan Alexander, president of the Mobile County (Ala.) School Board.
Alexander, who heads the New-Right-affiliated National Taxpayers Education Lobby, yesterday preducted a victory at the Supreme Court for Lee. He said, "These people and the Justice Department ought to look around them and see what happened on Nov. 4. There's a shift to the right everywhere: here, there, in D.C., even at the U.S. Spreme Court."
Parents of the children said yesterday they had no objection to their children attending school with blacks. It was the long-distance busing they said they objected to, so strongly that they were willing to give up their daughters to other families.
"Do I miss my daughter? The answer ought to be ovious," said B. Joseph Carbo III, whose daughter, Ramona, now lives with a family in the Buckeye zone. "But if you have a child, you know that you would do anything to protect her, even die. This is a great sacrifice. If we lose this, I will feel American citizens have no constitutional rights anymore." Carbo said his daughter still takes a long bus ride, 8 miles instead of 13, but it's a less dangerous route.
Ina LaBorde, whose daughter, Michelle, now lives away from home, said she too had no objection to mixed education. "But I do not want her to bused away."
She said she was distrubed, however, by Judge Lee's decision to make the children wards of the state (in order, he says, to enhance his jurisdictional position). "It seems like we've lost complete control of our lives," LaBorde said. "The children and the families are pawns now."