Excerpts From Majority Opinion of High Court In Missouri v. Jenkins

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Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

As this school desegregation litigation enters its 18th year, we are called upon again to review the decisions of the lower courts. In this case, the State of Missouri has challenged the DistricZg_rt's order of salary increases for virtually all instructional and noninstructional staff within the Kansas City, Mo., School District (K.C.M.S.D.) and the District Court's order requiring the State to continue to fund remedial "quality education" programs because student achievement levels were still "at or below national norms at many grade levels." ...

Here, the District Court has found, and the Court of Appeals has affirmed, that this case involved no interdistrict constitutional violation that would support interdistrict relief. ... Thus, the proper response by the District Court should have been to eliminate to the extent practicable the vestiges of prior de jure segregation within the K.C.M.S.D.: a systemwide reduction in student achievement and the existence of 25 racially identifiable schools with a population of over 90 percent black students.

The District Court and Court of Appeals, however, have felt that because the K.C.M.S.D.'s enrollment remained 68.3 percent black, a purely intradistrict remedy would be insufficient. But as noted in [Milliken v. Bradley (Milliken I)], we have rejected the suggestion "that schools which have a majority of Negro students are not 'desegregated' whatever the racial makeup of the school district's population and however neutrally the district lines have been drawn and administered."

Instead of seeking to remove the racial identity of the various schools within the K.C.M.S.D., the District Court has set out on a program to create a school district that was equal to or superior to the surrounding [suburban school districts]. Its remedy has focused on "desegregative attractiveness," coupled with "suburban comparability." ...

The purpose of desegregative attractiveness has been not only to remedy the systemwide reduction in student achievement, but also to attract nonminority students not presently enrolled in the K.C.M.S.D. This remedy has included an elaborate program of capital improvements, course enrichment, and extracurricular enhancement not simply in the formerly identifiable black schools, but in schools throughout the district. The District Court's remedial orders have converted every senior high school, every middle school, and one-half of the elementary schools in the K.C.M.S.D. into "magnet" schools. The District Court's remedial order has all but made the K.C.M.S.D. itself into a magnet district. ...

The District Court's remedial plan in this case ... is not designed solely to redistribute the students within the K.C.M.S.D. in order to eliminate racially identifiable schools within the K.C.M.S.D. Instead, its purpose is to attract nonminority students from outside the K.C.M.S.D. schools. But this interdistrict goal is beyond the scope of the intradistrict violation identified by the District Court. In effect, the District Court has devised a remedy to accomplish indirectly what it admittedly lacks the remedial authority to mandate directly: the interdistrict transfer of students. ...

What we meant in Milliken I by an interdistrict violation was a violation that caused segregation between adjoining districts. Nothing in Milliken I suggests that the District Court in that case could have circumvented the limits on its remedial authority by requiring the State of Michigan, a constitutional violator, to implement a magnet program designed to achieve the same interdistrict transfer of students that we held was beyond its remedial authority. Here, the District Court has done just that: created a magnet district of the K.C.M.S.D. in order to serve the interdistrict goal of attracting nonminority students from the surrounding [suburban districts] and redistributing them within the K.C.M.S.D. The District Court's pursuit of "desegregative attractiveness" is beyond the scope of its broad remedial authority. ...

In short, desegregative attractiveness has been used as the hook on which to hang numerous policy choices about improving the quality of education in general within the K.C.M.S.D. ...

The District Court's pursuit of the goal of "desegregative attractiveness" results in so many imponderables and is so far removed from the task of eliminating the racial identifiability of the schools within the K.C.M.S.D. that we believe it is beyond the admittedly broad discretion of the District Court. In this posture, we conclude that the District Court's order of salary increases, which was "grounded in remedying the vestiges of segregation by improving the desegregative attractiveness of the K.C.M.S.D.," is simply too far removed from an acceptable implementation of a permissible means to remedy previous legally mandated segregation.

Similar considerations lead us to conclude that the District Court's order requiring the State to continue to fund the quality education programs because student achievement levels were still "at or below national norms at many grade levels" cannot be sustained. ...

[T]his clearly is not the appropriate test to be applied in deciding whether a previously segregated district has achieved partially unitary status. The basic task of the District Court is to decide whether the reduction in achievement by minority students attributable to prior de jure segregation has been remedied to the extent practicable. Under our precedents, the State and the K.C.M.S.D. are entitled to a rather precise statement of their obligations under a desegregation decree. Although the District Court has determined that "segregation has caused a systemwide reduction in achievement in the schools of the K.C.M.S.D.," it never has identified the incremental effect that segregation has had on minority student achievement or the specific goals of the quality education programs.

In reconsidering this order, the District Court should apply our three-part test from Freeman v. Pitts. The District Court should consider that the State's role with respect to the quality education programs has been limited to the funding, not the implementation, of those programs. As all the parties agree that improved achievement on test scores is not necessarily required for the State to achieve partial unitary status as to the quality education programs, the District Court should sharply limit, if not dispense with, its reliance on this factor. Just as demographic changes independent of de jure segregation will affect the racial composition of student assignments, so too will numerous external factors beyond the control of the K.C.M.S.D. and the State affect minority student achievement. So long as these external factors are not the result of segregation, they do not figure in the remedial calculus. Insistence upon academic goals unrelated to the effects of legal segregation unwarrantably postpones the day when the K.C.M.S.D. will be able to operate on its own.

The District Court also should consider that many goals of its quality education plan already have been attained: the K.C.M.S.D. now is equipped with facilities and opportunities not available anywhere else in the country. ... It may be that in education, just as it may be in economics, a "rising tide lifts all boats," but the remedial quality education program should be tailored to remedy the injuries suffered by the victims of prior de jure segregation. ...

On remand, the District Court must bear in mind that its end purpose is not only "to remedy the violation" to the extent practicable, but also "to restore state and local authorities to the control of a school system that is operating in compliance with the Constitution." The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

Vol. 14, Issue 39

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