Neal Brooks Biggers Jr. is senior US District Court judge for the Northern District of Mississippi. Biggers was born on 1 July 1935 in Corinth. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Millsaps College in 1956 and then joined the US Navy, serving until 1960. Biggers graduated cum laude from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1963.
From 1963 to 1968 Biggers practiced law in the private sector. In 1964 he also served as a prosecuting attorney of Alcorn County. He was elected district attorney for the 1st Judicial District of Mississippi in 1968 and served until 1975. In 1974 he worked as an assistant instructor at the University of Mississippi. From 1975 to 1984 Biggers served as circuit judge for the 1st Judicial District of Mississippi.
In 1984 Pres. Ronald Reagan appointed Biggers to succeed William C. Keady as US District Court judge. Biggers took the oath of office on 28 March 1984 and served as chief judge from 1998 to 2000, when he retired from active service.
In 1987 Biggers presided over the case that some call the Brown v. Board of Education of higher education. In 1975 a black Mississippi Delta sharecropper, Jake Ayers, filed a suit on behalf of his son, Jake Jr., against the State of Mississippi. Ayers claimed that the state had failed to desegregate its universities and sought more money and better programs for historically black universities. In Ayers v. Musgrove Biggers ruled that Mississippi had done enough to end segregation in the state: the US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision, but the US Supreme Court overturned Biggers’s ruling. The case was sent back to Biggers with instructions to consider new desegregation proposals. A second trial was held in 1994, at the conclusion of which Biggers issued a remedial decree requiring the state to upgrade its historically black universities, adopt uniform admission standards, and provide programs at historically black colleges that would attract white students. More appeals followed, and settlement talks finally began in 2000. The case was settled in 2002, when Judge Biggers approved a $503-million settlement the state legislature agreed to fund.
In 1996 Biggers ruled in a school prayer case that the Pontotoc County School District had violated the First Amendment rights of the Lisa Herdahl family, which protested school prayers and religious instruction in school. The school’s religious practices included daily prayers by students over the intercom, classroom prayers before lunch, Bible classes, and a voluntary morning prayer in the school gym. Biggers ruled that prayer sessions in the gym were permissible but found the other religious practices illegal. “The Bill of Rights was created to protect the minority from tyranny,” Biggers wrote in his opinion.
- Almanac of the Federal Judiciary, vol. 2 (2008)
- Ayers v. Musgrove, 2002 US Dist. LEXIS 1973 (2002)
- Biographical Directory of the Federal Judiciary, 1789–2000 (2001)
- Herdahl v. Pontotoc County School District, 933 F. Supp. 582 (1996)
- The American Bench: Judges of the Nation (2008)