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U.S. Sides With Kansas City in Desegregation Case

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Washington

The Clinton Administration, taking a position in a high-profile desegregation case before the U.S. Supreme Court, will oppose the state of Missouri's effort to win partial release from court orders to pay for a desegregation remedy in the Kansas City, Mo., schools.

The Justice Department is expected to file its brief this week in the case of Missouri v. Jenkins (Case No. 93-1823), in which the High Court will consider the state's appeal of lower-court rulings requiring it to continue to pay for an elaborate desegregation program.

U.S. Solicitor General Drew S. Days 3rd asked the Justices late last month for permission to participate in oral arguments in the case on behalf of the Kansas City district and a group of black residents who are the original plaintiffs in the suit. The High Court routinely grants requests by the solicitor general to participate in oral arguments.

Missouri has been required to pay the majority of the costs of the Kansas City desegregation program because of the state's legacy of legally mandated racial segregation in public schools. The district and the private plaintiffs are opposing the state's effort to win partial release from the case.

Justice Department officials said they will take the position that Missouri cannot be released from its obligations merely by asserting that it has spent a lot of money to equalize opportunities for black and white students.

"Missouri is asking to be let out on the basis that it has has begun doing what the courts asked for and has acted in good faith," said Carl Stern, a spokesman for the Justice Department. "They have brought in their canceled checks."

The solicitor general will argue that the state must show it has done all it reasonably can to make the desegregation program effective, Mr. Stern said. The Administration fears that if the Court accepts Missouri's arguments, it will make it easier for other states and districts involved in desegregation cases to win release from court supervision, he added.

Appeals Court Criticized

In its briefs before the Supreme Court, one of Missouri's chief arguments is that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit set an improper standard for considering whether the state has met its desegregation obligations.

The Eight Circuit court set an "achievement" standard that requires an improvement in student test scores before court supervision can end, the state asserts.

"The 'test score approach' finds no support in the 14th Amendment," Jeremiah W. Nixon, Missouri's attorney general, argues in the state's main brief. "The 14th Amendment requires only improved educational opportunities, not a particular level of education, as a prerequisite to either full or partial unitary status."

Mr. Stern said the Justice Department did not see the Eighth Circuit's ruling as setting a radical new standard for evaluating desegregation compliance.

In addition to the solicitor general's arguments, briefs from the school district and the private plaintiffs are also due this week. The case has been set for oral argument on Jan. 11.

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