Missouri v. Jenkins 495 U.S. 33 (1990)

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MISSOURI v. JENKINS 495 U.S. 33 (1990)

Jenkins produced a unanimous result but with two sharply differing opinions on an important question concerning the power of federal courts to remedy school desegregation. A federal district court, after ordering the desegregation of the Kansas City school district, ordered the state of Missouri and the district to share the costs of the remedy, which included substantial capital improvements to make the integrated schools more attractive and thus to reduce "white flight." The district had exhausted its capacity to tax as defined by state law, and so the court ordered the district's property-tax levy increased through the next several fiscal years. The court of appeals affirmed the tax increase order, but the Supreme Court unanimously reversed. The majority, in an opinion by Justice byron r. white, held that the district court had abused its discretion in imposing the tax itself when an alternative to such an intrusive order was available. That alternative, said Justice White, would be for the district court to order the school district to levy property taxes at a rate adequate to fund the desegregation remedy.

justice anthony m. kennedy, joined by three other Justices, concurred in the result but disagreed strongly with the majority's conclusion that the district court had power to order the district to levy such a tax. That order, he said, would exceed the judicial power of the united states established in Article III of the Constitution. Taxation would be a legislative function, and the hiring and supervision of a staff to administer the funds so levied would be a political function. Justice Kennedy distinguished griffin v. county school board of prince edward county (1964), in which the Court had upheld the power of a district court to order a school district to levy taxes to reopen schools that had been closed in evasion of a desegregation order. Griffin, he said, involved an order to exercise an existing power to tax; in Jenkins, the school district would have to exceed its powers under state law. He suggested that the district court might have accomplished the desegregation of Kansas City's schools—although not with the particular remedies chosen—by means that did not require funding beyond the district's current means. Desegregating schools was an important objective, he said, but the limits on judicial power must be strictly observed.

Kenneth L. Karst

(see also: Judicial Power and Legislative Remedies.)

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Missouri v. Jenkins 495 U.S. 33 (1990)

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