Judge Cannot Raise Taxes, Jurists Rule : School Funding: Supreme Court declares, however, districts may be ordered to ignore state limitations in seeking desegregation remedies.

From Associated Press

The Supreme Court ruled today that a federal judge may not personally increase property taxes to pay for school desegregation but can order school officials to do so.

By a 9-0 vote, the court said U.S. District Judge Russell G. Clark abused his discretion when he personally imposed a school district tax hike in Kansas City, Mo.

But in a victory for civil rights forces, the court upheld most of the steps Clark ordered school officials to take to racially desegregate the schools.


In a 5-4 vote, the court said the judge could order officials to raise taxes to pay for the ordered desegregation remedies and could instruct them to ignore state laws limiting the amount of school taxes.

Writing for the court, Justice Byron R. White used sweeping language that could affect school desegregation cases nationwide.

“A local government with taxing authority may be ordered to levy taxes in excess of the limit set by state statute where there is reason based in the Constitution for not observing the statutory limitation,” White wrote.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia dissented on that issue, decrying the court’s “casual embrace of taxation imposed by the unelected, life-tenured federal judiciary.”

Clark went too far, the court said today. “Local officials should at least have the opportunity to devise their own solutions to these problems,” White wrote.

White’s opinion was joined by Justices William J. Brennan Jr., Thurgood Marshall, Harry A. Blackmun and John Paul Stevens.


In arguments before the justices last October on the Kansas City case, Missouri lawyer H. Barton Farr III, representing the state, called a tax increase ordered by an unelected judge “taxation without representation.”

When it comes to federal courts, Farr said then, “There is no power to tax, period.”

Today’s decision rejected that argument.

School district voters had rejected six proposals since 1970 to increase taxes for education. Clark nearly doubled the local property tax--ordering the school district to raise the tax from $2.05 to $4 per $100 of assessed valuation to help finance school capital improvements that he ordered.

In another important ruling today the high court said an overnight guest in a private home enjoys the same privacy rights as the homeowner. By a 7-2 vote, the court struck down a Minnesota man’s murder conviction. It said police unlawfully arrested the man without a warrant in a home where he was staying.

In a separate Fourth Amendment decision, the court ruled, 5-4, that police sometimes may use confessions from suspects arrested unlawfully at their homes. The justices reinstated the murder conviction of Bernard Harris of New York City, who confessed to killing a former girlfriend.

The ruling carves out a new exception to the so-called exclusionary rule designed to prevent police misconduct by barring use of unlawfully seized evidence.