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Missouri v. Jenkins Case Brief

Summary of Missouri v. Jenkins
Citation: 495 U.S. 33 (1990)

Relevant Facts: Kalima Jenkins, a student in the St. Louis school system, and other students brought suit to challenge of the constitutional adequacy of the education they received in the St. Louis, Missouri metropolitan area. The Federal District Court found that the school district was segregated by race in violation of the Constitution. Furthermore, that Court crafted an order to remedy the problem and allocated responsibility, and funding, for implementation amongst the various levels of government responsible for the underlying violations. The Court adopted a plan to improve educational facilities and teacher quality/retention in order to benefit Jenkins and the other plaintiffs. However, the Court recognized that the local school district would have trouble raising funds to pay for the remedial efforts given restrictions on property tax assessments in the Missouri State Constitution. After appeal and remand, the District Court apportioned fault between the school district and the State (as directed by the Court of Appeals), finding the district 25% at fault and the State 75% at fault, with both defendants jointly and severally liable. However, recognizing the continued difficulty with raising the necessary revenue at the local level, which by now included recognition of failed efforts to gain voter approval of a ballot initiative to raise school funding, the District Court ordered a tax increase. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but modified the order based on principles of state/federal comity, and reminded the District Court that even where remedial efforts are necessary the Court should select minimally obtrusive methods. Here, the Court of Appeals found that the District Court could have enjoined enforcement of State law provisions that would have prevented a tax increase and order the district so submit a tax levy plan sufficient to cover the costs of remediation. The State moved for a rehearing en banc, although the petition was unclear as to whether the State was the State was petitioning for a rehearing or suggesting an en banc hearing (the former serving to toll the statute of limitations for certiorari petition while the latter would not). The Court of Appeals denied both motions and this appeal followed.

Issue: Whether the appeal was timely filed and thus Supreme Court jurisdiction is proper? Whether the District Court has the authority to order a property tax increase to comply with a remedial order that seeks to correct deficiencies in a racially segregated school system?

Holding: Yes, the petition here was timely filed as it was treated by the Court of Appeals as a petition for rehearing and thus the time for a proper appeal thereafter was tolled until the decision on the post-trial petition. No, the District Court did not have authority to order the tax increase; rather, for the reasons urged by the Court of Appeals the District Court should have crafted a less obtrusive order.

Reasoning: Justice White delivered the judgment of a unanimous Court and a unanimous opinion as to Part II of his opinion. Justice White delivered the majority opinion with regard to parts I, III, and IV of his opinion. First, the majority dealt with the jurisdictional issue related to the timeliness of the petition for certiorari. While the State’s filing below was ambiguous, the Court had to determine whether it should be classified as a motion for rehearing (which would toll the time for appeal) or a suggestion for an en banc hearing (in which case the certiorari petition deadline would not be tolled). Writing for a unanimous Court as to this point, Justice White explained that the State had the stronger argument in asserting it had made a motion for rehearing along with a suggestion for rehearing en banc. Accordingly, the time for appeal was tolled until the motion was decided and the appeal here was timely filed. Next, Justice White turned to the substantive questions presented. The majority explained that the District Court exceeded its authority, and violated principles of comity, by attempting to directly impose a tax upon concluding that no other alternatives existed. As the Court of Appeals explained and the Supreme Court agreed, the district Judge should have respected the authority and responsibility of local government and achieved the same result by enjoining enforcement of state laws impeding the tax increases and ordering local officials to then adopt the taxing plan. Next, the majority turned to the remainder of the analysis below. Justice White concluded that the remedy itself was proper here, although the means to achieve it were improper for the reasons provided. Furthermore, the district court acted properly in apportioning fault under §1983 and in ordering the school district to bear its own burden of the costs. Finally, the Court concluded that neither the Tenth Amendment nor the structural prohibitions of the Constitution prohibited a federal district court from ordering local authorities to impose a tax. Federal judges are empowered to enforce federal legislation itself aimed at implementing the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment, and local authorities- provided with the proper tools from the same district court- are required to act in order to bring their actions into compliance with constitutional demands.

Concurrence: Justice Kennedy concurred in part and concurred in the judgment, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist, Justice O’Connor, and Justice Scalia. Justice Kennedy agreed that the Court had jurisdiction to hear the case. However, he argued that the courts below and the majority here stretched federal judicial authority beyond recognized limits in allowing a federal judge to impose a tax on local residents, whether directly as in the initial attempt or indirect order as approved by the Court here. Justice Kennedy believe the distinction between the original plan (direct judicial tax imposition) and the modified plan (court ordered taxation approved by local officials) was an artificial one and that in either event the judiciary was usurping a traditionally legislative function by instituting a tax. Citing lengthy precedent and voluminous evidence regarding the nature of judicial authority under Article III, Justice Kennedy concluded that the district court lacked the power to compel funding of admittedly worthy efforts to remedy constitutionally deficient, discriminatory educational practices. While the minority here recognized the obvious plight of local officials seeking to comply with judicial orders while restricted by state law regarding revenue-raising initiatives, they concluded that the worthwhile ends did not justify the impermissible means.

Dissent: Included with concurrence above.

Conclusion: Federal district courts may not directly assess local taxes in order to craft a remedy for constitutional violations. However, they may enjoin state laws that impede compliance with constitutional commands and order local officials to impose taxes in order to craft effective remedies.



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