Redefining De Facto: Cruz-Guzman and the Future of Racial Segregation in Minnesota Public Schools

By: Fariza Hassan*

Despite the renowned decision made by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education banning state-imposed segregation, racial disparities and harms to children of color continue to permeate in various ways within public education systems across the nation.[1] In Minnesota, this issue has reached a new legal height with the recent decision made by the Minnesota Supreme Court in Cruz-Guzman v. State.[2] This holding—requiring proof that racial imbalances are a substantial factor in producing an inadequate education, rather than proof of State-imposed segregation—may pave the way for unprecedented reform in remedying the harms of de facto segregation that still persists in public schools.[3] While some Minnesotans find hope in this holding, others invoke a question prompted since Brown: whether state-imposed desegregation adequately protects and serves the interests of non-white children in public schools.[4] Minnesota courts must weigh the various facets of this historical issue as Cruz-Guzman moves forward and potentially alters the educational experiences and outcomes for Black and brown children across the state.

Substantive Procedural History of Cruz-Guzman

In November of 2015, a group of parents with children enrolled, or expected to be enrolled, in Minneapolis and Saint Paul Public Schools sued the State of Minnesota and affiliated parties on the basis of upholding racial and socioeconomic segregation.[5] Namely, the parents argued that the high degree of segregation based on race and socioeconomic status violated the Education, Equal Protection, and Due Process Clauses of the Minnesota Constitution, and that the State knew of such violations yet failed to act within its capacity to provide an adequate and equitable education as required.[6] In support of their claims, the parents highlighted the racial and socioeconomic differences of the schools compared to the overwhelmingly white surrounding suburban districts.[7] Additionally, the parents pointed to a number of State policies and practices that they allege contributed to the racial imbalances and inadequate educational outcomes, such as school boundary lines, open enrollment policies, disparate funding of schools, misuse of state and federal funds, and more.[8]

In 2017, the appellate court held that the parents’ claims presented a “nonjusticiable political question,” in that determining the standards of an “adequate education” —as noted, but not explicitly defined in the Education Clause of the state constitution—is not for courts to define, but rather the “entrusted representatives” of the legislature and local government of the State.[9] Upon review, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed this appellate-level decision (Cruz-Guzman I) on the premise that the judiciary is not prevented by separation-of-powers principles from ruling on whether the State has violated its duty under the Minnesota Constitution.[10]

Upon its revisit to the district court, the case was then certified as a class action, and the parents and the State engaged in mediation over the following 2 years, drafting a bill for consideration by the Legislature in early 2021 that would resolve the legal matter if passed.[11] The bill failed to pass either house, however, and has not been reintroduced since.[12] In the case’s second appellate review, the parents pushed forward on their Education Clause claim, asking the appellate court to review the following question:

Is the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution violated by a racially imbalanced school system, regardless of the presence of de jure segregation or proof of a causal link between the racial imbalance and the actions of the state?[13]

The court of appeals held that unintentional segregation resulting in racially imbalanced schools is not, by itself, a violation of the Education Clause, “even if state action contributed to the racial imbalance.”[14] The court based this ruling on the required element of intentional segregation, as established by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education.[15]

The Minnesota Supreme Court granted review of the matter once again (Cruz-Guzman II), but reformatted the question initially posed to the following:

Are racial imbalances in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools, as compared to other schools in the same school district, sufficient, standing alone, to establish a violation of the Education Clause of the Minnesota Constitution?[16]

On December 13, 2023, the Court answered this question in the negative, with the majority holding that “racial imbalances in Minneapolis and Saint Paul public schools, standing alone, are not sufficient to establish a violation of the Education Clause.”[17] However, the Court held that the parents need not prove that the State caused the alleged segregation, but they must prove that “racially imbalanced schools are a substantial factor in causing their children to receive an inadequate education.”[18] Cruz-Guzman II now returns to the district court, where the parents have the opportunity to present evidence in this refocused lens, demonstrating how segregation has led to poor outcomes for students of color in Minneapolis and St. Paul schools.[19]

Chief Justice Hudson’s Dissent

            In a powerful, 22-page dissent in Cruz-Guzman II, Chief Justice Natalie Hudson argues that the question considered by the Minnesota Supreme Court ought to be answered in the positive: de facto segregation in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools is sufficient, standing alone, to establish a violation of the Education Clause.[20] An important element of Chief Justice Hudson’s dissent is the emphasis on the lingering presence of segregation in public schools kept alive through public and private forces, such as racial covenants in housing, wealth disparities, and other elements.[21] Notably, Chief Justice Hudson highlights the excessive burden placed on the plaintiffs in needing to prove the social phenomenon of de facto segregation, pointing out that such a burden of proof ought not to be placed on the parents, but the legislature as outlined by the Education Clause.[22] Attorneys on both sides of the case praised Chief Justice Hudson’s dissent and emphasis on historical analysis.[23]

Charter Schools and the Future of Cruz-Guzman

            In December 2015, three charter schools in the Twin Cities area intervened as defendants in the initial Cruz-Guzman case, submitting an answer and counterclaims in response to the parents’ complaint.[24] These charter schools all have more narrowly designed programs that account for the unique experiences and needs for their population of students (e.g., African American students, East African students, homeless students).[25] They argue that their schools provide the unique and specialized environments for their students, and that a state mandate to disrupt such culturally affirming schools is a restriction on parental choice and student success.[26] Nekima Levy Armstrong, one of the attorneys representing the intervening charter schools, described the majority opinion decision in Cruz-Guzman II as a win, posing an important question for consideration as this case progresses: “why should the white majority be able to decide where Black parents send their children to school, knowing all the disparities we’re up against in every key indicator of quality of life in this state?”[27]

Levy Armstrong raises an important question of who ought to be in control of a child’s education as Cruz-Guzman continues on within the legal arena. While celebrating the December 2023 decision of the case, Levy Armstrong notes that a win for the plaintiffs could certainly have an impact on culturally affirming charter schools—schools that can technically be considered racially imbalanced given their culturally specific approaches and student populations—as well as on the autonomy of parents and children.[28] On the other side of the matter, Dan Shulman, an attorney representing the parents, also views the recent holding as a “huge victory” for his clients, in that all they need to show moving forward is the role of de facto segregation as a substantial factor in bringing about inadequate education, which is “[demonstrable] in the Twin Cities.”[29]

As Cruz-Guzman makes its way back into the legal sphere with this new lens, it is important for Minnesota courts to take into consideration the historical trends and impacts of state-imposed desegregation. Minnesota has a powerful opportunity to rectify a long history of racial discrimination faced by young Black and brown children within the realm of public education, but the question of who will truly reap these benefits and how exactly such benefits ought to be derived is one that requires great care and diligence by the state.


* Fariza Hassan is the incoming Editor-in-Chief of JLI Vol. 43.


[1]Brown v. Board, 347 U.S. 483 (1954); see Nicholas A. Schaffer, Racial Segregation and its Educational Ripples, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Beyond BLS (November 2022), (summarizing data from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrating a positive correlation between segregation and gaps between Black and white students’ levels of degree attainment); see also U.S. Gov. Accountability Off., K-12 Education: Better Use of Information Could Help Agencies Identify Disparities and Address Racial Discrimination (GAO-16-345) (2016) (reporting that K-12 public schools in the U.S. that are more racially and economically concentrated with Black and Hispanic students offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college prepatory courses and higher rates of disciplinary actions taken against students).

[2] Cruz-Guzman et al. v. State et al. (Cruz-Guzman II), 998 N.W.2d 262 (Minn. Dec. 13, 2023).

[3] See Becky Z. Dernbach, Competing Charter-School and Public-School Advocates Declare Victory in Minnesota Desegregation Ruling, Sahan J. (Dec. 13, 2023),

[4] Brown v. Board, 347 U.S. 483 (1954); see Donald L.W. Howie, The Image of Black People in Brown v. Board of Education, 3 Jour. of Black Studies 371 (1973) (arguing that the “ad hoc evaluation” of Brown impeded the evolution of the Black liberation movement, and that the Court “perpetuated its tradition of balancing Black people’s rights against the pragmatic needs of society”); see also Derrick A. Bell Jr., Brown v. Board of Education and the Interest-Convergence Dilemma, 93 Harvard L. Rev. 518 (1980) (contending that similar to abolition, morality alone was insufficient in producing racial reform in Brown, and that racial justice at large—as proffered by the law—may only come to fruition whenever deemed an important interest, by courts and policymakers).

[5] Complaint, Cruz-Guzman et al. v. State of Minnesota et al., No. 27-CV-15-19117 (Dist. Ct. 4th Cir., Minn. Nov. 5, 2015).

[6] Id. at 2–3.

[7] See Complaint, supra note 5, at 9–33.

[8] Id.

[9] Cruz-Guzman v. State, 892 N.W.2d 533, 541 (Minn. Ct. App., 2017); Minn. Const. art. 13, § 1.

[10] Cruz-Guzman I, 916 N.W.2d 1, 5 (Minn. 2018).

[11] Cruz-Guzman II, 998 N.W.2d at 267; H.F. 2471, 92nd Minn. Leg. 2021; S.F. 2465, 92nd Minn. Leg. 2021 (H.F. 2471’s identical companion bill).

[12] Cruz-Guzman II, 998 N.W.2d at 268.

[13] Cruz-Guzman, 980 N.W.2d at 822 (Minn. Ct. App. 2022).

[14] Id. at 822, 827.

[15] Id.; Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. at 495.

[16] Cruz-Guzman II, 998 N.W.2d at 270.

[17] Id. at 265.

[18] Id. at 277 (emphasis added); Eder Campuzano, Court: Racial Imbalance in Minnesota Schools Must Be ‘Substantial Factor’ to Violate Constitution, Star Tribune (Dec. 14, 2023),

[19] Madison McVan, Ruling in Cruz-Guzman Case Good News for Public School Desegregation efforts, Minn. Reformer (7:02 PM, Dec. 13, 2023),

[20] Cruz-Guzman II, 998 N.W.2d at 278 (Hudson, J., dissenting).

[21] Id. at 287–8. (“And unlike de jure segregation . . . de facto segregation in public schools is fueled by a constellation of public and private forces, both historic and modern. As noted above, these forces include racially restrictive covenants, discriminatory housing finance programs, exclusionary zoning policies, wealth disparities, and implicit and explicit bias.”).

[22] Id. at 287–8.

[23] Campuzano, supra note 14.

[24] Intervenors’ Answer and Counterclaim, Cruz-Guzman et al. v. State of Minnesota et al., No. 27-CV-15-19117 (Dist. Ct. 4th Cir., Minn., Dec. 23, 2015); Dernbach, supra note 3, at 1.

[25] Dernbach, supra note 3, at 5.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id. at 10.

[29] Id. at 6, 11.