Missouri v. Jenkins

LOCATION: Doby’s Motel Court

DOCKET NO.: 88-1150
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 495 US 33 (1990)
ARGUED: Oct 30, 1989
DECIDED: Apr 18, 1990

Allen R. Snyder - Argued the cause for the respondents
H. Bartow Farr, III - Argued the cause for the petitioners

Facts of the case

In order to combat segregation in public schools in compliance with court directives, the Kansas City, Missouri School District (KCMSD) sought to enhance the quality of schools and to attract more white students from the suburbs. The KCMSD's ability to raise taxes, however, was limited by state law. After determining that the District did not have alternative means of raising revenue for the program, federal district judge Russell G. Clark ordered an increase of local property taxes for the 1991-92 fiscal year. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the decision, but ruled that the courts should enjoin state tax laws that prevented the District from raising the necessary funds and allow the state to set tax rates.


Did the court order to increase property taxes violate Article III, the Tenth Amendment, or principles of federal/state comity?

Media for Missouri v. Jenkins

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 30, 1989 in Missouri v. Jenkins

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - April 18, 1990 in Missouri v. Jenkins

Byron R. White:

This by a five-to-four vote we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in Missouri against Jenkins, No. 88-1150.

Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment in which the Chief Justice and Justices O’Conner and Scalia have joined.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

The case of Missouri versus Jenkins is a sufficient gravity that it seems appropriate for me to read from portions of the concurring opinion that has been filed today.

The case involves a school’s dissegregation plan adapted by United States District Court in Kansas City, Missouri.

As part of the remedial plan, the local school districts and the plaintiffs together proposed and the District Court ordered expensive improvements to the local school system.

By the time of the order at issue here, the cost of the plan had risen to approximately $500 million, far exceeding local budgets or revenues.

The District Court then decided that it would fund the plan by imposing a property tax directly on local citizens.

The Court is unanimous in its holding today that the Court of Appeals judgment affirming the direct imposition of taxes by the District Court must be reversed.

But this separate opinion is necessary because the majority has gone on in statements not necessary to the resolution of this case.

To approve a system, whereby the local school district would set the rate of taxation and the Federal Court would then allow the school district to impose the tax even though it is in direct violation of Missouri law under which the voters retain the right to approve tax increases through direct vote.

Absent a change in state law, no increase in property taxes could take place in the school district.

Whatever taxing power the school district may exercise in this case will derive from the Federal Court.

The question therefore is whether Federal Courts possess the power to tax or to authorize the collection of the tax.

I believe that this is not a power assigned to the judiciary in our system of government.

Our cases throughout the history of this Court and as recently as last term have reaffirmed that taxation is a power that judiciary does not possess.

There is no support in the Constitution or history or our precedents for the statements to the contrary in today’s majority opinion.

The confinement of taxation to the legislative branches both in our federal and state governments was not random.

It reflected that our ideal that the power of taxation must be under control of those who are taxed.

This truth animates all our colonial and revolutionary history.

It is a founding principle of our democracy that there shall be no taxation without representation.

The federal judiciary by design is not representative or responsive to the people in a political sense.

It is independent.

Federal judges do not depend on the popular will for their office, and it is not surprising that imposition of taxes by an authority so insulated from public communication or control can lead to deep feelings of frustration, powerlessness, and anger on the part of tax paying citizens.

One of the most troubling aspects of the Court’s opinion today is that discussion of the important constitutional issues of judicial authority to the tax need never have been undertaken to decide this case.

Even where I am willing to accept the Court’s proposition that a Federal Court might in some extreme case authorize taxation, this case is not the one.

In fact, the taxation power is sought here on behalf of the remedial order unlike any before seen.

Instead of using the accepted concept of limited magnet schools, the District Court decided to turn the whole district into a magnet so that all high schools, all middle schools, and half the elementary schools in the district would be magnet schools offering special programs.

Perhaps it is good educational policy to provide a school district with items like those the District Court required Kansas City citizens to finance with a judicial tax.

For example, the 2000-square-foot planetarium, greenhouses and vivariums, a 25 acre farm with an air-conditioned meeting room for 104 people, a Model United Nations wired for language translation, broadcast capable radio and television studios, a temperature-controlled art gallery, movie editing and screening rooms, a 3500-square-foot dust-free diesel mechanics rooms, swimming pools, and numerous other facilities.

But these items are part of legitimate political debate over educational policy and spending priorities, not the Constitution’s command of racial equality.