The first three words of the preamble to the Constitution are "We the People." Yet the vast majority of constitutional scholarship is limited to the opinions of judges, lawyers, law professors, and other political and economic elites. This article takes a different approach to constitutional understanding. It describes the legal thoughts of the citizens for whom the Constitution exists. It does so through an analysis of the public's reaction to the federal court decisions in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, a desegregation case. The lead attorney for the Swann plaintiffs was Julius LeVonne Chambers, an alumnus and future chancellor of North Carolina Central University. The case culminated with a United States Supreme Court decision in April 1971, in which the Court unanimously affirmed the decision of District Judge James B. McMillan of Charlotte, North Carolina. Judge McMillan ordered the busing of students in order to achieve racial balance in the District's more than one hundred schools. The Supreme Court ruling stood for the principle that federal district judges possessed extensive remedial powers to integrate Southern public school districts. More importantly, Swann existed in an intensely public context. This context included vastly different understandings of the constitutional grounds for desegregation and the meaning of a racially integrated society. Opponents of busing often relied on arguments that busing contradicted essential constitutional rights of freedom of association, democratic choice, liberty, and majority rule. Supporters of Judge McMillan, on the other hand, viewed the Constitution as encouraging a degree of moral and legal racial equality that could be accomplished through busing. During the litigation, citizens expressed their views directly to the Judge in personal letters. A constitutional debate over liberty and equality, in which persons of different races, ages, education, and economic status expressed their thoughts, divided the Charlotte community. This article takes the position that constitutional law should take account of public opinion and not be restricted to the ideas of elites. Only by studying the legal thoughts of the citizenry, "the People" at the center of constitutional purpose, can the Constitution and its evolution be more fully understood.
James L. Hunt, The Constitution, Desegregation, and Public Opinion: Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 37 N.C. Cent. L. Rev. 129 (2015).