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Justice Dept. Asks Supreme Court To Decide Tax-Exemption Case

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The Justice Department, reversing its former position, has asked the Supreme Court to decide whether the Internal Revenue Service (irs) may deny tax exemptions to schools that discriminate on racial grounds.

But the department, because it contends the irs does not have the statutory authority to make such determinations, asked that the Court appoint someone else to argue in favor of the denials.

The department, because of the Reagan Administration's Jan. 8 policy reversal on the issue, had ear-

lier asked the Court to declare moot the cases before it involving Bob Jones University and the Goldsboro (N.C.) Christian Schools.

But in light of an injunction issued Feb. 18 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which barred the irs from granting tax privileges to schools that discriminate, the Justice Department decided that it would be "appropriate for the Court to proceed'' to hear the case, according to papers filed Thursday.

The Justice Department did not specify who should argue the position that the revenue service is empowered by existing statutes to deny exemptions to schools that practice discrimination.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is one of several organizations that have asked to do so.

The department's motion did suggest, however, that the Court grant 20 minutes for oral argument to the schools involved in the case, which contend that the irs has no authority to deny them tax privileges; 20 minutes to "friends of the court" who maintain the authority is clear under existing law and the Constitution; and 20 minutes to the government, which is taking the middle ground, contending that the denial of tax privileges is authorized by the Constitution, but not by law.

One source in the Justice Department said the latest reversal in the tax-exemption saga was an attempt to "get the Administration off the hook" in a Congressional and judicial stalemate.

Within days of revoking the 11-year-old policy of denying exemptions to schools that discriminate, President Reagan promised to support legislation that would explicitly give the irs those powers.

But his bill is stalled in Congress because of opposition from both conservatives and liberals.--P.C.

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