Law & Courts

High Court Refuses To Hear N.Y. Appeal in Yonkers Case

By Mark Walsh — May 31, 2000 3 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court last week declined to hear New York state’s appeal of lower-court rulings that require it to pay half the costs of desegregating the Yonkers public schools.

The court’s action is the latest development in a desegregation case that began in 1980 and is likely to remain contentious for at least several more years. The Supreme Court appeal concerned the state’s liability for sharing the costs of the 26,000-student Yonkers district’s existing desegregation plan, which totals $85 million per year.

Still pending in a federal district court is a portion of the case dealing with whether the state will be required to pay as much as $1.1 billion more over eight years to remedy vestiges of segregation in the school system, which is just north of New York City.

A federal district judge has found that vestiges of segregation in the district include low teacher expectations of minority students and insufficient use of multicultural teaching techniques.

In a ruling last year, however, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, ordered the district court to re-examine its conclusion that traces of segregation remained in the Yonkers system.

No Credit

Nevertheless, the 2nd Circuit court affirmed the district court’s orders requiring the state to pay 50 percent of the ongoing costs of a desegregation plan begun in 1986, which includes an extensive system of magnet schools and voluntary busing. The district and appeals courts concluded in various rulings that state actions and inactions contributed to segregation in housing and schools in Yonkers.

In its ruling last year, the appeals panel rejected the state’s arguments that it should get credit for the general magnet school aid it provides to Yonkers.

The district court “determined that this money did not have the effect of funding the ordered remedy” and was thus not “clearly erroneous,” the appeals panel said.

New York state argued in its appeal to the Supreme Court that the 2nd Circuit’s decisions could lead other courts to “impose novel and expansive liability on the states for the unconstitutional acts of their municipal subdivisions and local school districts.”

In response, lawyers for the Yonkers district said the state had already sought review by the high court over the issue of liability for half the desegregation costs. The justices declined the state’s appeal in 1997.

The high court declined without comment to hear the latest appeal in State of New York v. Yonkers Board of Education (Case No. 99-1370).

Cable TV Sex

Separately last week, the court ruled 5-4 to strike down part of a federal law that requires cable television operators to fully block sexually explicit channels or else transmit them only when children were not likely to be viewing.

The ruling in U.S. v. Playboy Entertainment Group Inc. (No. 98-1682) deals with provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 that were meant to address the problem of “signal bleed,” when sexually explicit programming is scrambled but can be viewed or heard by nonsubscribers.

While advancing technology can fully block channels a cable subscriber does not want, most cable systems complied with the 1996 law by limiting sexually explicit channels to the hours between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. That provision of the law was challenged as a violation of the First Amendment by Playboy, which produces several sexually explicit channels available by subscription.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the law’s requirements were a content-based restriction that failed strict scrutiny under the First Amendment because a less intrusive alternative was available. Another provision of the law requires cable operators to block undesired channels in any household that requests it.

“The history of the law of free expression is one of vindication in cases involving speech that many citizens may find shabby, offensive, or even ugly,” Justice Kennedy said. He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Clarence Thomas, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In dissent, Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the overturned provision served “the same interests as the laws that deny children access to adult cabarets or X-rated movies.” Because millions of children have parents who work and many are at home unsupervised, the law “offers independent protection for a large number of families,” he wrote.

He was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia.

A version of this article appeared in the May 31, 2000 edition of Education Week as High Court Refuses To Hear N.Y. Appeal in Yonkers Case

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