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Law School Case Brief

Missouri v. Jenkins - 515 U.S. 70


In the first place, like other equitable remedies, the nature of a desegregation remedy is to be determined by the nature and scope of the constitutional violation. The remedy must therefore be related to the condition alleged to offend the Constitution. Second, the decree must indeed be remedial in nature, that is, it must be designed as nearly as possible to restore the victims of discriminatory conduct to the position they would have occupied in the absence of such conduct. Third, the federal courts in devising a remedy must take into account the interests of state and local authorities in managing their own affairs, consistent with the Constitution. The principle that the nature and scope of the remedy are to be determined by the violation means simply that federal-court decrees must directly address and relate to the constitutional violation itself.


In 1977, the Kansas City, Missouri, School District (KCMD), the school board, and the children of two school board members brought suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri against the state of Missouri and various suburban school districts or allegedly causing and perpetuating racial segregation in the schools of the city's metropolitan area. The District Court determined that the state and the city district had operated a segregated school system within the city district. It determined that segregation had caused a systemwide reduction in student achievement in the city district's schools and ordered a wide range of remedial "quality education" programs for all students in the city district's schools. It adopted a comprehensive magnet school program in order to draw nonminority students from private schools and the suburban districts into city district schools, and subsequently ordered salary assistance that was eventually extended to virtually all of the city district's instructional and noninstructional employees. The Court of Appeals observed that the increases were designed to eliminate the vestiges of state-imposed segregation by improving the "desegregative attractiveness" of the district and by reversing "white flight" to the suburbs. It also approved the District Court's "implicit" rejection of the State's request for a determination of partial unitary status


Were the orders of the District Court acceptable implementation of a permissible means to remedy the legally mandated segregation?




The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment. It found the District Court's pursuit of desegregative attractiveness in formulating a desegregation plan for the city district was beyond the scope of the District Court's remedial authority. Although a District Court necessarily has discretion to fashion a remedy for a school district unconstitutionally segregated in law, such remedial power is not unlimited and may not be extended to purposes beyond the elimination of racial discrimination in public schools. The ultimate inquiry is whether the constitutional violator has complied in good faith with the decree since it was entered, and whether the vestiges of discrimination have been eliminated to the extent practicable. The order approving salary increases, which was grounded in improving the "desegregative attractiveness" of the KCMSD, likewise exceeded the District Court's admittedly broad discretion. The order should have sought to eliminate to the extent practicable the vestiges of prior de jure segregation within the KCMSD, instead, the District Court created a magnet district of the KCMSD in order to attract non-minority students from the surrounding suburban school districts and to redistribute them within the KCMSD schools. This interdistrict goal is beyond the scope of the intradistrict violation identified by the District Court. Lastly, the order requiring the State to continue to fund the quality education programs also cannot be sustained. Whether or not KCMSD student achievement levels are still "at or below national norms at many grade levels" clearly is not the appropriate test for deciding whether a previously segregated district has achieved partially unitary status. The State's role with respect to the quality education programs has been limited to the funding, not the implementation, of those programs and many of the goals of the quality education plan already have been attained. Its end purpose is not only to remedy the violation to the extent practicable, but also to restore control to state and local authorities.

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