On October 7, 2013 United States District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake delivered an unambiguous opinion concerning Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities; for decades, the state had violated the U.S. Constitution for operating a system of higher education still rooted in segregation.

Soon after her ruling Blake “urged” the two sides – the state (led by the office of the attorney general) and The Coalition, which represents the state’s HBCU – to begin mediation to remedy the segregative effects of duplication of HBCU programs by traditionally White institutions (TWI). According to observers of the case the mediation process is underway although it is difficult to discern what stage it has progressed to.

Blake appointed U.S. District Court Judge Paul W. Grimm as mediator. Grimm facilitated the pre-trial negotiations in the HBCU duplication lawsuit when he was Chief Magistrate Judge. He was appointed to his current post on the District Court by President Obama December 10, 2012. Grimm is also an adjunct professor of law at both the University of Maryland and the University of Baltimore.

“She (Blake) offered a framework for the remedy but she did not impose a remedy ruling. Instead, she said to the parties that they should…come together and attempt to negotiate a remedy that would fix the Constitutional violation,” said Pace McConkie, former assistant attorney general of Maryland and director of Morgan State University’s Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education. The veteran civil rights attorney has been closely monitoring the HBCU duplication lawsuit since it began in 2006.

McConkie says there are a couple of possible outcomes as a result of the negotiation process.

“Through these negotiations…the state and The Coalition (could) actually agree on a remedial proposal. They would then go back before Judge Catherine C. Blake and say this is the remedy that we have agreed upon, they would still have to get that approved by the court,” McConkie explained.

“The other option is that they don’t reach an agreement through negotiations…then she will entertain competing proposals from both sides. The Coalition will present its remedial proposal…and the state will propose its remedial proposal and the judge may have a hearing on it. And then the court will make a ruling on what the remedy should be…She has retained jurisdiction over the case so that she can do exactly that,” he added.

McConkie cautioned those who have interpreted Judge Blake’s call for mediation between the two parties as some sort of a reprieve for the state in wake of her ruling.

“Her ruling is really quite condemning of the state…here we are, the ruling was in 2013 and she said that the state of Maryland operates a separate and unequal system of higher education that is segregated by race and she went through decades and decades of state policies and practices to reach that conclusion,” McConkie said.

“She is now giving the state an opportunity to negotiate a remedy, but the remedy has to fix that violation…but, if they don’t then she will order a remedy that she feels is necessary,” he added.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor