Missouri v. Jenkins: The Third Round
The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in this case for a third time when the state contended that the trial court’s order to fund salary increases for KCMSD employees and to continue to pay for remedial quality education programs exceeded its desegregation remedial authority. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s order, observing that the funding increases were necessary for making the schools attractive for the purposes of desegregation and to reverse “White flight” to the suburbs. Further, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the rejection of the state’s request that the KCMSD be awarded partial unitary status, under Freeman v. Pitts (1992), with respect to the high-quality education programs. The importance of this aspect of the case is that it would have released the state from its obligations to fund the programs.
On further review, a closely divided Supreme Court, in a 5-to-4 judgment, reversed in favor of the state (Missouri v. Jenkins, III). In its analysis, the Supreme Court reviewed and reconstructed the methodology for measuring the remedial authority of federal trial courts in desegregation actions. For example, the Court pointed out that in Swann v. Charlotte- Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971), it recognized the power of federal trial courts to fashion remedies for segregation while cautioning against their attempting to achieve purposes beyond the scope of the wrongs or purposes that lay outside the power of school officials.
At the same time, the Supreme Court grounded its rationale in Milliken v. Bradley I, wherein it rejected a trial court’s order calling for an interdistrict remedy to eliminate segregation of Detroit’s schools as beyond its remedial power, because the nature of the harm was intradistrict. The Court recognized that in Milliken I it also rejected the notion that having schools with a majority of minority students was a means of measuring whether they were desegregated, instead asserting that such an inquiry should begin with a measure of the proportions of minority students in individual schools as compared with the proportions of the races in the school district as a whole.
Further, the Court explained that in Milliken v. Bradley II (1977), it had addressed the limits of federal trial courts in the exercise of their remedial authority in desegregation actions. Moreover, it is also worth noting that in Freeman v. Pitts (1992), the Court provided another test to guide federal trial courts in ordering a partial withdrawal from federal oversight in desegregation actions.
Continuing on with its analysis, the Supreme Court viewed the trial court’s order for salary supplements and expensive programs in KCMSD as an attempt to right an intradistrict wrong, the vestiges of prior de jure segregation within KCMSD, with an interdistrict remedy. Consequently, the Court reasoned that the orders approving the salary increases and requiring the state to continue funding the expensive educational programs were beyond the trial court’s authority. The justices concluded by directing the federal trial court to use the precedent provided by Freeman v. Pitts (1992), namely that it could relinquish its control over a desegregation plan incrementally once it was satisfied that officials made a good faith commitment to comply with its order, in determining when to terminate judicial supervision.