A federal judge on Monday gave final approval to a legal settlement that would allow the state to phase out payments of millions of dollars to three school districts to fund desegregation efforts, bringing to a close a court battle that has lasted over three decades. While the details of the settlement were made public in November, the timing of the ruling by Judge Price Marshall in Federal District Court was somewhat unexpected, coming at the end of a day of testimony from opponents of the deal.
The major parties involved — including the Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County school districts, the state, and a group representing Black students and parents in the districts — had already agreed on the terms of the settlement, achieving a consensus that had been elusive since the lawsuit was first filed in 1982.
The case had particular resonance here in the city that experienced the earliest and perhaps best-known battle over desegregation, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent National Guard troops to protect nine Black students who were trying to attend Central High School in September 1957.
The case settled on Monday can be traced back to that time, though the lineage is complicated by different lawsuits, expanding groups of plaintiffs and defendants, and changes in the remedies being sought. In some form or another, however, Little Rock has been involved in federal desegregation litigation for nearly 60 years. This settlement brings that era almost to a close.