|Missouri v. Jenkins
855 F.2d 1295 (CA 81988), affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.
[ White ]
[ Kennedy ]
Missouri v. Jenkins
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT
Justice KENNEDY, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE, Justice O'CONNOR, and Justice SCALIA join, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.
In agreement with the Court that we have jurisdiction to decide this case, I join Part II of the opinion. I agree also that the District Court exceeded its authority by attempting to impose a tax. The Court is unanimous in its holding that the Court of Appeals' judgment affirming "the actions that the [district] court has taken to this point," 855 F.2d 1295, 1314 (CA8 1988), must be reversed. This is consistent with our precedents and the basic principles defining judicial power.
In my view, however, the Court transgresses these same principles when it goes further, much further, to embrace by broad dictum an expansion of power in the federal judiciary beyond all precedent. Today's casual embrace of taxation imposed by the unelected, life-tenured Federal Judiciary disregards [p59] fundamental precepts for the democratic control of public institutions. I cannot acquiesce in the majority's statements on this point, and, should there arise an actual dispute over the collection of taxes as here contemplated in a case that is not, like this one, premature, we should not confirm the outcome of premises adopted with so little constitutional justification. The Court's statements, in my view, cannot be seen as necessary for its judgment, or as precedent for the future, and I cannot join Parts III and IV of the Court's opinion.
Some essential litigation history is necessary for a full understanding of what is at stake here and what will be wrought if the implications of all the Court's statements are followed to the full extent. The District Court's remedial plan was proposed for the most part by the Kansas City, Missouri, School District (KCMSD) itself, which is in name a defendant in the suit. Defendants, and above all defendants that are public entities, act in the highest and best tradition of our legal system when they acknowledge fault and cooperate to suggest remedies. But in the context of this dispute, it is of vital importance to note the KCMSD demonstrated little concern for the fiscal consequences of the remedy that it helped design.
As the District Court acknowledged, the plaintiffs and the KCMSD pursued a "friendly adversary" relationship. Throughout the remedial phase of the litigation, the KCMSD proposed ever more expensive capital improvements with the agreement of the plaintiffs, and the State objected. Some of these improvements involved basic repairs to deteriorating facilities within the school system. The KCMSD, however, devised a broader concept for district-wide improvement, and the District Court approved it. The plan involved a variation of the magnet school concept. Magnet schools, as the majority opinion notes, ante at 40, n. 6, offer special programs, [p60] often used to encourage voluntary movement of students within the district in a pattern that aids desegregation.
Although we have approved desegregation plans involving magnet schools of this conventional definition, see Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267, 272 (1977), the District Court found this insufficient. App. to Pet. for Cert. 122a. Instead, the court and the KCMSD decided to make a magnet of the district as a whole. The hope was to draw new nonminority students from outside the district. The KCMSD plan adopted by the Court provided that
every senior high school, every middle school, and approximately one-half of the elementary schools in the KCMSD will become magnet schools by the school year 1991-92.
Id. at 121a. The plan was intended to "improve the quality of education of all KCMSD students." Id. at 103a. The District Court was candid to acknowledge that the
long-term goal of this Court's remedial order is to make available to all KCMSD students educational opportunities equal to or greater than those presently available in the average Kansas City, Missouri metropolitan suburban school district.
Id. at 145a-146a (emphasis in original).
It comes as no surprise that the cost of this approach to the remedy far exceeded KCMSD's budget, or, for that matter, its authority to tax. A few examples are illustrative. Programs such as a "performing arts middle school," id. at 118a, a "technical magnet high school" that "will offer programs ranging from heating and air conditioning to cosmetology to robotics," id. at 75a, were approved. The plan also included a "25-acre farm and 25-acre wildland area" for science study. Id. at 20a. The Court rejected various proposals by the State to make "capital improvements necessary to eliminate health and safety hazards and to provide a good learning environment," because these proposals failed to "consider the criteria of suburban comparability." Id. at 70a. The District Court stated:
This "patch and repair" approach proposed by the State would not achieve suburban comparability or the [p61] visual attractiveness sought by the Court, as it would result in floor coverings with unsightly sections of mismatched carpeting and tile, and individual walls possessing different shades of paint.
Id. at 70a. Finding that construction of new schools would result in more "attractive" facilities than renovation of existing ones, the District Court approved new construction at a cost ranging from $61.80 per square foot to $95.70 per square foot, as distinct from renovation at $45 per square foot. Id. at 76a.
By the time of the order at issue here, the District Court's remedies included some "$260 million in capital improvements and a magnet school plan costing over $200 million." Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 276 (1989). And the remedial orders grew more expensive as shortfalls in revenue became more severe. As the Eighth Circuit judges dissenting from denial of rehearing in banc put it:
The remedies ordered go far beyond anything previously seen in a school desegregation case. The sheer immensity of the programs encompassed by the district court's order -- the large number of magnet schools and the quantity of capital renovations and new construction -- are concededly without parallel in any other school district in the country.
855 F.2d at 1318-1319.
The judicial taxation approved by the Eighth Circuit is also without parallel. Other Circuits that have faced funding problems arising from remedial decrees have concluded that, while courts have undoubted power to order that schools operate in compliance with the Constitution, the manner and methods of school financing are beyond federal judicial authority. See National City Bank v. Battisti, 581 F.2d 565 (CA6 1977); Plaquemines Parish School Bd. v. United States, 415 F.2d 817 (CA5 1969). The Third Circuit, while leaving open the possibility that in some situations a court-ordered tax might be appropriate, has also declined to approve judicial interference in taxation. Evans v. Buchanan, 582 F.2d 750 (1978), cert. denied, sub nom. Alexis I. DuPont [p62] School Dist. v. Evans, 447 U.S. 916 (1980). The Sixth Circuit, in a somewhat different context, has recognized the severe intrusion caused by federal court interference in state and local financing. Kelley v. Metropolitan County Bd. of Education of Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn., 836 F.2d 986 (1987), cert. denied, 487 U.S. 1206 (1988).
Unlike these other courts, the Eighth Circuit has endorsed judicial taxation, first in dicta from cases in which taxation orders were in fact disapproved. United States v Missouri, 515 F.2d 1365, 1372-1373 (1975) (District Court may "implement its desegregation order by directing that provision be made for the levying of taxes"); Liddell v. Missouri, 731 F.2d 1294, 1320 (CA8), cert. denied, sub nom. Leggett v. Liddell, 469 U.S. 816 (1984) (District Court may impose tax "after exploration of every other fiscal alternative"). The case before us represents the first in which a lower federal court has in fact upheld taxation to fund a remedial decree.
For reasons explained below, I agree with the Court that the Eighth Circuit's judgment affirming the District Court's direct levy of a property tax must be reversed. I cannot agree, however, that we "stand on different ground when we review the modifications to the District Court's order made by the Court of Appeals," ante at 52. At the outset, it must be noted that the Court of Appeals made no "modifications" to the District Court's order. Rather, it affirmed "the actions that the court has taken to this point." 855 F.2d at 1314. It is true that the Court of Appeals went on "to consider the procedures which the district court should use in the future." Ibid. (emphasis added). But the Court of Appeals' entire discussion of "a preferable method for future funding," ibid., can be considered no more than dictum, the court itself having already upheld the District Court's actions to date. No other order of the District Court was before the Court of Appeals.
The Court states that the Court of Appeals' discussion of future taxation was not dictum because, although the Court of [p63] Appeals "did not require the District Court to reverse the tax increase that it had imposed for prior fiscal years," it "required the District Court to use the less obtrusive procedures beginning with the fiscal year commencing after the remand." Ante at 52-53, n. 18. But no such distinction is found in the Court of Appeals' opinion. Rather, the court "affirm[ed] the actions that the [district] court has taken to this point," which included the District Court's October 27, 1987, order increasing property taxes in the KCMSD through the end of fiscal year 1991-1992. The District Court's January 3, 1989 order does not support, but refutes, the Court's characterization. The District Court rejected a request by the KCMSD to increase the property tax rate using the method endorsed by the Eighth Circuit from $4.00 to $4.23 per $100 of assessed valuation. The District Court reasoned that an increase in 1988 property taxes would be difficult to administer and cause resentment among taxpayers, and that an increase in 1989 property taxes would be premature because it was not yet known whether an increase would be necessary to fund expenditures. App. 511-512. In rejecting the KCMSD's request, the District Court left in effect the $4.00 rate it had established in its October 27, 1987, order.
Whatever the Court thinks of the Court of Appeals' opinion, the District Court, on remand, appears to have thought it was under no compulsion to disturb its existing order establishing the $4.00 property tax rate through fiscal year 1991-1992 unless and until it became necessary to raise property taxes even higher. The Court's discussion today, and its stated approval of the "method for future funding" found "preferable" by the Court of Appeals, is unnecessary for the decision in this case. As the Court chooses to discuss the question of future taxation, however, I must state my respectful disagreement with its analysis and conclusions on this vital question.
The premise of the Court's analysis, I submit, is infirm. Any purported distinction between direct imposition of a tax [p64] by the federal court and an order commanding the school district to impose the tax is but a convenient formalism where the court's action is predicated on elimination of state law limitations on the school district's taxing authority. As the Court describes it, the local KCMSD possesses plenary taxing powers which allow it to impose any tax it chooses if not "hinder[ed]" by the Missouri Constitution and state statutes. Ante at 57. This puts the conclusion before the premise. Local government bodies in Missouri, as elsewhere, must derive their power from a sovereign, and that sovereign is the State of Missouri. See Mo. Const., Art. X, § 1 (political subdivisions may exercise only "[tax] power granted to them" by Missouri General Assembly). Under Missouri law, the KCMSD has power to impose a limited property tax levy up to $1.25 per $100 of assessed value. The power to exact a higher rate of property tax remains with the people, a majority of whom must agree to empower the KCMSD to increase the levy up to $3.75 per $100, and two-thirds of whom must agree for the levy to go higher. See Mo. Const., Art. X, §§ 11(b), (c). The Missouri Constitution states that
[p]roperty taxes and other local taxes may not be increased above the limitations specified herein without direct voter approval as provided by this constitution.
Mo. Const., Art. X, § 16.
For this reason, I reject the artificial suggestion that the District Court may by "prevent[ing] . . . officials from applying state law that would interfere with the willing levy of property taxes by KCMSD," ante at 56, n. 20, cause the KCMSD to exercise power under state law. State laws, including taxation provisions legitimate and constitutional in themselves, define the power of the KCMSD. Cf. Washington v. Washington State Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel Assn., 443 U.S. 658, 695 (1979) (whether a state agency "may be ordered actually to promulgate regulations having effect as a matter of state law may well be doubtful"). Absent a change in state law, no increase in property taxes could take [p65] place in the KCMSD without a federal court order. It makes no difference that the KCMSD stands "ready, willing, and . . . able" to impose a tax not authorized by state law. Ante at 51. Whatever taxing power the KCMSD may exercise outside the boundaries of state law would derive from the federal court. The Court never confronts the judicial authority to issue an order for this purpose. Absent a change in state law, the tax is imposed by federal authority under a federal decree. The question is whether a district court possesses a power to tax under federal law, either directly or through delegation to the KCMSD.
Article III of the Constitution states that
[t]he judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.
The description of the judicial power nowhere includes the word "tax," or anything that resembles it. This reflects the Framers' understanding that taxation was not a proper area for judicial involvement.
The judiciary . . . has no influence over either the sword or the purse, no direction either of the strength or of the wealth of the society, and can take no active resolution whatever.
The Federalist No. 78, p. 523 (J. Cooke ed. 1961) (A. Hamilton).
Our cases throughout the years leave no doubt that taxation is not a judicial function. Last Term, we rejected the invitation to cure an unconstitutional tax scheme by broadening the class of those taxed. We said that such a remedy "could be construed as the direct imposition of a state tax, a remedy beyond the power of a federal court." Davis v. Michigan Dept. of Treasury, 489 U.S. 803, 818 (1989). Our statement in Davis rested on the explicit holding in Moses Lake Homes v. Grant County, 365 U.S. 744 (1961), in which we reversed a judgment directing a District Court to decree a valid tax in place of an invalid one that the State had attempted to enforce: [p66]
The effect of the Court's remand was to direct the District Court to decree a valid tax for the invalid one which the State had attempted to exact. The District Court has no power so to decree. Federal courts may not assess or levy taxes. Only the appropriate taxing officials of Grant County may assess and levy taxes on these leaseholds, and the federal courts may determine, within their jurisdiction, only whether the tax levied by those officials is or is not a valid one.
Id. at 752.
The nature of the District Court's order here reveals that it is not a proper exercise of the judicial power. The exercise of judicial power involves adjudication of controversies and imposition of burdens on those who are parties before the Court. The order at issue here is not of this character. It binds the broad class of all KCMSD taxpayers. It has the purpose and direct effect of extracting money from persons who have had no presence or representation in the suit. For this reason, the District Court's direct order imposing a tax was more than an abuse of discretion, for any attempt to collect the taxes from the citizens would have been a blatant denial of due process.
Taxation by a legislature raises no due process concerns, for the citizens
rights are protected in the only way that they can be in a complex society, by their power, immediate or remote, over those who make the rule.
Bi-Metallic Co. v. Colorado State Bd. of Equalization, 239 U.S. 441, 445 (1915). The citizens who are taxed are given notice and a hearing through their representatives, whose power is a direct manifestation of the citizens' consent. A true exercise of judicial power provides due process of another sort. Where money is extracted from parties by a court's judgment, the adjudication itself provides the notice and opportunity to be heard that due process demands before a citizen may be deprived of property.
The order here provides neither of these protections. Where a tax is imposed by a governmental body other than [p67] the legislature, even an administrative agency to which the legislature has delegated taxing authority, due process requires notice to the citizens to be taxed and some opportunity to be heard. See, e.g., Londoner v. Denver, 210 U.S. 373, 385-386 (1908). The citizens whose tax bills would have been doubled under the District Court's direct tax order would not have had these protections. The taxes were imposed by a District Court that was not "representative" in any sense, and the individual citizens of the KCMSD whose property (they later learned) was at stake were neither served with process nor heard in court. The method of taxation endorsed by today's dicta suffers the same flaw, for a district court order that overrides the citizens' state law protection against taxation without referendum approval can in no sense provide representational due process. No one suggests the KCMSD taxpayers are parties.
A judicial taxation order is but an attempt to exercise a power that always has been thought legislative in nature. The location of the federal taxing power sheds light on today's attempt to approve judicial taxation at the local level. Article I, § 1 states that
[a]ll legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives. . . .
(Emphasis added.) The list of legislative powers in Article I, § 8, cl. 1 begins with the statement that "[t]he Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes. . . . " As we have said, "[t]axation is a legislative function, and Congress . . . is the sole organ for levying taxes." National Cable Television Assn. Inc. v. United States, 415 U.S. 336, 340 (1974) (citing Article I, § 8, cl. 1).
True, today's case is not an instance of one branch of the Federal Government invading the province of another. It is instead one that brings the weight of federal authority upon a local government and a State. This does not detract, however, from the fundamental point that the judiciary is not free to exercise all federal power; it may exercise only the [p68] judicial power. And the important effects of the taxation order discussed here raise additional federalism concerns that counsel against the Court's analysis.
In perhaps the leading case concerning desegregation remedies, Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. 267 (1977), we upheld a prospective remedial plan, not a "money judgment," ante at 54, against a State's claim that principles of federalism had been ignored in the plan's implementation. In so doing the Court emphasized that the District Court had
neither attempted to restructure local governmental entities nor to mandate a particular method or structure of state or local financing.
433 U.S. at 291. No such assurances emerge from today's decision, which endorses federal court intrusion into these precise matters. Our statement in a case decided more than 100 years ago should apply here.
This power to impose burdens and raise money is the highest attribute of sovereignty, and is exercised, first, to raise money for public purposes only; and, second, by the power of legislative authority only. It is a power that has not been extended to the judiciary. Especially is it beyond the power of the Federal judiciary to assume the place of a State in the exercise of this authority at once so delicate and so important.
Rees v. City of Watertown, 19 Wall. 107, 116-117 (1874).
The confinement of taxation to the legislative branches, both in our Federal and State Governments, was not random. It reflected our ideal that the power of taxation must be under the control of those who are taxed. This truth animated all our colonial and revolutionary history.
Your Memorialists conceive it to be a fundamental Principle . . . without which Freedom can no Where exist, that the People are not subject to any Taxes but such as are laid on them by their own Consent, or by those who are legally appointed to represent them: Property must become too precarious for the Genius of a free People [p69] which can be taken from them at the Will of others, who cannot know what Taxes such people can bear, or the easiest Mode of raising them; and who are not under that Restraint, which is the greatest Security against a burthensome Taxation, when the Representatives themselves must be affected by every tax imposed on the People.
Virginia Petitions to King and Parliament, December 18, 1764, reprinted in The Stamp Act Crisis 41 (E. Morgan ed. 1952).
The power of taxation is one that the federal judiciary does not possess. In our system "the legislative department alone has access to the pockets of the people," The Federalist No. 48, 334 (J. Cooke ed. 1961) (J. Madison), for it is the legislature that is accountable to them and represents their will. The authority that would levy the tax at issue here shares none of these qualities. Our federal judiciary, by design, is not representative or responsible to the people in a political sense; it is independent. Federal judges do not depend on the popular will for their office. They may not even share the burden of taxes they attempt to impose, for they may live outside the jurisdiction their orders affect. And federal judges have no fear that the competition for scarce public resources could result in a diminution of their salaries. 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 taxpaying citizens.
The operation of tax systems is among the most difficult aspects of public administration. It is not a function the judiciary as an institution is designed to exercise. Unlike legislative bodies, which may hold hearings on how best to raise revenues, all subject to the views of constituents to whom the legislature is accountable, the judiciary must grope ahead with only the assistance of the parties, or perhaps random amici curiae. Those hearings would be without principled direction, for there exists no body of juridical axioms by [p70] which to guide or review them. On this questionable basis, the Court today would give authority for decisions that affect the life plans of local citizens, the revenue available for competing public needs, and the health of the local economy.
Day-to-day administration of the tax must be accomplished by judicial trial and error, requisitioning the staff of the existing tax authority, or the hiring of a staff under the direction of the judge. The District Court orders in this case suggest the pitfalls of the first course. See App. to Pet. for Cert. 55a (correcting order for assessment of penalties for nonpayment that "mistakenly" assessed penalties on an extra tax year); id. at 57a ("clarify[ing]" the inclusion of savings and loans, estates, trusts, and beneficiaries in the Court's income tax surcharge, and enforcement procedures). Forcing citizens to make financial decisions in fear of the fledgling judicial tax collector's next misstep must detract from the dignity and independence of the federal courts.
The function of hiring and supervising a staff for what is essentially a political function has other complications. As part of its remedial order, for example, the District Court ordered the hiring of a "public information specialist," at a cost of $30,000. The purpose of the position was to "solicit community support and involvement" in the District Court's desegregation plan. See id. at 191a. This type of order raises a substantial question whether a district court may extract taxes from citizens who have no right of representation and then use the funds for expression with which the citizens may disagree. Cf. Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977).
The Court relies on dicta from Griffin v. School Bd. of Prince Edward County, 377 U.S. 218 (1964) to support its statements on judicial taxation. In Griffin, the Court faced an unrepentent and recalcitrant school board that attempted to provide financial support for white schools while refusing to operate schools for black schoolchildren. We stated that the district court could
require the Supervisors to exercise the [p71] power that is theirs to levy taxes to raise funds adequate to reopen, operate, and maintain without racial discrimination a public school system.
Id. at 233 (emphasis added). There is no occasion in this case to discuss the full implications of Griffin's observation, for it has no application here. Griffin endorsed the power of a federal court to order the local authority to exercise existing authority to tax.
This case does not involve an order to a local government with plenary taxing power to impose a tax, or an order directed at one whose taxing power has been limited by a state law enacted in order to thwart a federal court order. An order of this type would find support in the Griffin dicta, and present a closer question than the one before us. Yet that order might implicate as well the "perversion of the normal legislative process" that we have found troubling in other contexts. See Spallone v. United States, 493 U.S. 265, 280 (1990). A legislative vote taken under judicial compulsion blurs lines of accountability by making it appear that a decision was reached by elected representatives when the reality is otherwise. For this reason, it is difficult to see the difference between an order to tax and direct judicial imposition of a tax.
The Court asserts that its understanding of Griffin follows from cases in which the Court upheld the use of mandamus to compel local officials to collect taxes that were authorized under state law in order to meet bond obligations. See ante at 55-57. But as discussed above, supra, at 63-65, there was no state authority in this case for the KCMSD to exercise. In this situation, there could be no authority for a judicial order touching on taxation. See United States v. County of Macon, 99 U.S. 582, 591 (1879) (where the statute empowering the corporation to issue bonds contains a limit on the taxing power, federal court has no power of mandamus to compel a levy in excess of that power; "We have no power by mandamus to compel a municipal corporation to levy a tax which the law does not authorize. We cannot create new [p72] rights or confer new powers. All we can do is to bring existing powers into operation").
The Court cites a single case, Von Hoffman v. City of Quincy, 4 Wall. 535 (1867), for the proposition that a federal court may set aside state taxation limits that interfere with the remedy sought by the district court. But the Court does not heed Von Hoffman's holding. There a municipality had authorized a tax levy in support of a specific bond obligation, but later limited the taxation authority in a way that impaired the bond obligation. The Court held the subsequent limitation itself unconstitutional, a violation of the Contracts Clause. Once the limitation was held invalid, the original specific grant of authority remained. There is no allegation here, nor could there be, that the neutral tax limitations imposed by the people of Missouri are unconstitutional. Compare Tr. of Oral Arg. 41 ("nothing in the record to suggest" that tax limitation was intended to frustrate desegregation) with Griffin, 377 U.S. at 221 (state constitution amended as part of state and school district plan to resist desegregation). The majority appears to concede that the Missouri tax law does not violate a specific provision of the Constitution, stating instead that state laws may be disregarded on the basis of a vague "reason based in the Constitution." Ante at 57. But this broad suggestion does not follow from the holding in Von Hoffman.
Examination of the "long and venerable line of cases," ante at 55, cited by the Court to endorse judicial taxation reveals the lack of real support for the Court's rationale. One group of these cases holds simply that the common law writ of mandamus lies to compel a local official to perform a clear duty imposed by state law. See United States v. New Orleans, 98 U.S. 381 (1879) (reaffirming legislative nature of the taxing power and the availability of mandamus to compel officers to levy a tax where they were required by state law to do so); City of Galena v. Amy, 5 Wall. 705 (1867) (mandamus to state officials to collect a tax authorized by state law [p73] in order to fund a state bond obligation); Board of Commissioners of Knox County v. Aspinwall, 24 How. 376 (1861) (state statute gave tax officials authority to levy the tax needed to satisfy a bond obligation and explicitly required them to do so; mandamus was proper to compel performance of this "plain duty" under state law). These common law mandamus decisions do not purport to involve the Federal Constitution or remedial powers.
A second set of cases, including the Von Hoffman case relied upon by the Court, invalidates on Contracts Clause grounds statutory limitations on taxation power passed subsequent to grants of tax authority in support of bond obligations. See Louisiana ex rel. Hubert v. Mayor and Council Of New Orleans, 215 U.S. 170 (1909) (state law authorized municipal tax in support of bond obligation; subsequent legislation removing the authority is invalid under Contracts Clause, and mandamus will lie against municipal official to collect the tax); Graham v. Folsom, 200 U.S. 248 (1906) (where state municipality enters into a bond obligation based on delegated state power to collect a tax, State may not by subsequent abolition of the municipality remove the taxing power; such an act is itself invalid as a violation of the Contracts Clause); Wolff v. New Orleans, 103 U.S. 358 (1880) (same). These cases, like Von Hoffman, are inapposite because there is no colorable argument that the provision of the Missouri Constitution limiting property tax assessments itself violates the Federal Constitution.
A third group of cases involving taxation and municipal bonds is more relevant. These cases hold that, where there is no state or municipal taxation authority that the federal court may by mandamus command the officials to exercise, the court is itself without authority to order taxation. In some of these cases, the officials charged with administering the tax resigned their positions, and the Court held that no judicial remedy was available. See Heine v. Levee Commissioners, 19 Wall. 655 (1874) (where the levee commissioners [p74] had resigned their office, no one remained on whom the mandamus could operate). In Heine, the Court held that it had no equitable power to impose a tax in order to prevent the plaintiff's right from going without a remedy.
The power we are here asked to exercise is the very delicate one of taxation. This power belongs in this country to the legislative sovereignty, State or National. . . . It certainly is not vested, as in the exercise of an original jurisdiction, in any Federal court. It is unreasonable to suppose that the legislature would ever select a Federal court for that purpose. It is not only not one of the inherent powers of the court to levy and collect taxes, but it is an invasion by the judiciary of the Federal government of the legislative functions of the State government. It is a most extraordinary request, and a compliance with it would involve consequences no less out of the way of judicial procedure, the end of which no wisdom can foresee.
Id. at 660-661. Other cases state more broadly that, absent state authority for a tax levy, the exercise of which may be compelled by mandamus, the federal court is without power to impose any tax. See Meriwether v. Garrett, 102 U.S. 472 (1880) (where State repealed municipal charter, federal court had no authority to impose taxes, which may be collected only under authority from the legislature); id. at 515 (Field, J., concurring in judgment) ("The levying of taxes is not a judicial act. It has no elements of one"); United States v. County of Macon, 99 U.S. 582 (1879) (no authority to compel a levy higher than state law allowed outside situation where a subsequent limitation violated Contracts Clause); Rees v. City of Watertown, 19 Wall. 107 (1874) (holding mandamus unavailable where officials have resigned, and that tax limitation in effect when bond obligation was undertaken may not be exceeded by court order).
With all respect, it is this third group of cases that applies. The majority would limit these authorities to a narrow "exceptio[n]" [p75] for cases where local officers resigned. Ante at 56, n. 20. This is not an accurate description. Rather, the cases show that, where a limitation on the local authority's taxing power is not a subsequent enactment itself in violation of the Contracts Clause, a federal court is without power to order a tax levy that goes beyond the authority granted by state law. The Court states that the KCMSD was "invested with authority to collect and disburse the property tax." Ibid. Invested by whom? It is plain that the KCMSD had no such power under state law. That being so, the authority to levy a higher tax would have to come from the federal court. The very cases cited by the majority show that a federal court has no such authority.
At bottom, today's discussion seems motivated by the fear that failure to endorse judicial taxation power might, in some extreme circumstance, leave a court unable to remedy a constitutional violation. As I discuss below, I do not think this possibility is in reality a significant one. More important, this possibility is nothing more or less than the necessary consequence of any limit on judicial power. If, however, judicial discretion is to provide the sole limit on judicial remedies, that discretion must counsel restraint. Ill-considered entry into the volatile field of taxation is a step that may place at risk the legitimacy that justifies judicial independence.
One of the most troubling aspects of the Court's opinion is that discussion of the important constitutional issues of judicial authority to tax need never have been undertaken to decide this case. Even were I willing to accept the Court's proposition that a federal court might in some extreme case authorize taxation, this case is not the one. The suggestion that failure to approve judicial taxation here would leave constitutional rights unvindicated rests on a presumption that the District Court's remedy is the only possible cure for the constitutional violations it found. Neither our precedents [p76] nor the record support this view. In fact, the taxation power is sought here on behalf of a remedial order unlike any before seen.
It cannot be contended that interdistrict comparability, which was the ultimate goal of the District Court's orders, is itself a constitutional command. We have long since determined that "unequal expenditures between children who happen to reside in different districts" do not violate the Equal Protection Clause. San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 54-55 (1973). The District Court in this case found, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, that there was no interdistrict constitutional violation that would support mandatory interdistrict relief. See Jenkins v. Missouri, 807 F.2d 657 (CA8 1986). Instead, the District Court's conclusion that desegregation might be easier if more nonminority students could be attracted into the KCMSD was used as the hook on which to hang numerous policy choices about improving the quality of education in general within the KCMSD. The State's complaint that this suit represents the attempt of a school district that could not obtain public support for increased spending to enlist the District Court to finance its educational policy cannot be dismissed out of hand. The plaintiffs and KCMSD might well be seen as parties that have "joined forces apparently for the purpose of extracting funds from the state treasury." Milliken v. Bradley, 433 U.S. at 293 (Powell, J., concurring in judgment).
This Court has never approved a remedy of the type adopted by the District Court. There are strong arguments against the validity of such a plan. A remedy that uses the quality of education as a lure to attract nonminority students will place the District Court at the center of controversies over educational philosophy that, by tradition, are left to this Nation's communities. Such a plan, as a practical matter, raises many of the concerns involved in interdistrict desegregation remedies. Cf. Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 [p77] (1974) (invalidating interdistrict remedial plan). District Courts can and must take needed steps to eliminate racial discrimination and ensure the operation of unitary school systems. But it is discrimination, not the ineptitude of educators or the indifference of the public, that is the evil to be remedied. An initial finding of discrimination cannot be used as the basis for a wholesale shift of authority over day-to-day school operations from parents, teachers, and elected officials to an unaccountable district judge whose province is law, not education.
Perhaps it is good educational policy to provide a school district with the items included in the KCMSD capital improvement plan, for example: high schools in which every classroom will have air conditioning, an alarm system, and 15 microcomputers; a 2,000-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 with an editing and animation lab; a temperature controlled art gallery; movie editing and screening rooms; a 3,500-square-foot dust-free diesel mechanics room; 1,875-square-foot elementary school animal rooms for use in a Zoo Project; swimming pools; and numerous other facilities. But these items are a part of legitimate political debate over educational policy and spending priorities, not the Constitution's command of racial equality. Indeed, it may be that a mere 12-acre petting farm, or other corresponding reductions in court-ordered spending, might satisfy constitutional requirements while preserving scarce public funds for legislative allocation to other public needs, such as paving streets, feeding the poor, building prisons, or housing the homeless. Perhaps the KCMSD's Classical Greek theme schools emphasizing forensics and self-government will provide exemplary training in participatory democracy. But if today's dicta become law, such lessons will be of little use to students who grow up to become taxpayers in the KCMSD. [p78]
I am required in light of our limited grant of certiorari to assume that the remedy chosen by the District Court was a permissible exercise of its remedial discretion. But it is misleading to suggest that a failure to fund this particular remedy would leave constitutional rights without a remedy. In fact, the District Court acknowledged in its very first remedial order that the development of a remedy in this case would involve "a choice among a wide range of possibilities." App. to Pet. for Cert. 153a. Its observation was consistent with our cases concerning the scope of equitable remedies, which have recognized that "equity has been characterized by a practical flexibility in shaping its remedies." Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 300 (1955).
Any argument that the remedy chosen by the District Court was the only one possible is in fact unsupportable in light of our previous cases. We have approved desegregation orders using assignment changes and some ancillary education programs to ensure the operation of a unitary school system for the district's children. See, e.g., Columbus Bd. of Education v. Penick, 443 U.S. 449 (1979); Dayton Bd of Education v. Brinkman, 433 U.S. 406 (1977). To suggest that a constitutional violation will go unremedied if a district does not, through capital improvements or other means, turn every school into a magnet school, and the entire district into a magnet district, is to suggest that the remedies approved in our past cases should have been disapproved as insufficient to deal with the violations. The truth of the matter is that the remedies in those cases were permissible choices among the many that might be adopted by a district court.
The prudence we have required in other areas touching on federal court intrusion in local government, see, e.g., Spallone v. United States, 493 U.S. 265 (1990), is missing here. Even on the assumption that a federal court might order taxation in an extreme case, the unique nature of the taxing power would demand that this remedy be used as a last resort. In my view, a taxation order should not even be [p79] considered, and this Court need never have addressed the question, unless there has been a finding that, without the particular remedy at issue, the constitutional violation will go unremedied. By this I do not mean that the remedy is, as we assume this one was, within the broad discretion of the district court. Rather, as a prerequisite to considering a taxation order, I would require a finding that any remedy less costly than the one at issue would so plainly leave the violation unremedied that its implementation would itself be an abuse of discretion. There is no showing in this record that, faced with the revenue shortfall, the District Court gave due consideration to the possibility that another remedy among the "wide range of possibilities" would have addressed the constitutional violations without giving rise to a funding crisis.
The District Court here did consider alternatives to the taxing measures it imposed, but only funding alternatives. See, e.g., App. to Pet. for Cert. 86a. There is no indication in the record that the District Court gave any consideration to the possibility that an alternative remedial plan, while less attractive from an educational policy viewpoint, might nonetheless suffice to cure the constitutional violation. Rather, it found only that the taxation orders were necessary to fund the particular remedy it had devised. This Court, with full justification, has given latitude to the district judges that must deal with persisting problems of desegregation. Even when faced with open defiance of the mandate of educational equality, however, no court has ever found necessary a remedy of the scope presented here. For this reason, no order of taxation has ever been approved. The Court fails to provide any explanation why this case presents the need to endorse by dictum so drastic a step.
The suggestion that our limited grant of certiorari requires us to decide this case blinkered as to the actual remedy underlying it, ante at 53, is ill-founded. A limited grant of certiorari is not a means by which the Court can pose for itself [p80] an abstract question. Our jurisdiction is limited to particular Cases and Controversies. U.S. Const., Art. III, § 2, cl. 1. The only question this Court has authority to address is whether a judicial tax was appropriate in this case. Moreover, the petition for certiorari in this case included the contention that the District Court should not have considered the power to tax before considering whether its choice of remedy was the only possible way to achieve desegregation as a part of its argument on Question 2, which the Court granted. Pet. for Cert. 27. Far from being an improper invitation to go outside the question presented, attention to the extraordinary remedy here is the Court's duty. This would be a far more prudent course than recharacterizing the case in an attempt to reach premature decision on an important question. If the Court is to take upon itself the power to tax, respect for its own integrity demands that the power be exercised in support of true constitutional principle, not "suburban comparability" and "visual attractiveness."
This case is a stark illustration of the ever-present question whether ends justify means. Few ends are more important than enforcing the guarantee of equal educational opportunity for our Nation's children. But rules of taxation that override state political strictures not themselves subject to any constitutional infirmity raise serious questions of federal authority, questions compounded by the odd posture of a case in which the Court assumes the validity of a novel conception of desegregation remedies we never before have approved. The historical record of voluntary compliance with the decree of Brown v. Board of Education is not a proud chapter in our constitutional history, and the judges of the District Courts and Courts of Appeals have been courageous and skillful in implementing its mandate. But courage and skill must be exercised with due regard for the proper and historic role of the courts. [p81]
I do not acknowledge the troubling departures in today's majority opinion as either necessary or appropriate to ensure full compliance with the Equal Protection Clause and its mandate to eliminate the cause and effects of racial discrimination in the schools. Indeed, while this case happens to arise in the compelling context of school desegregation, the principles involved are not limited to that context. There is no obvious limit to today's discussion that would prevent judicial taxation in cases involving prisons, hospitals, or other public institutions, or indeed to pay a large damages award levied against a municipality under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This assertion of judicial power in one of the most sensitive of policy areas, that involving taxation, begins a process that, over time, could threaten fundamental alteration of the form of government our Constitution embodies.
James Madison observed:
Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.
The Federalist, No. 51, p. 352 (J. Cooke ed. 1961). In pursuing the demand of justice for racial equality, I fear that the Court today loses sight of other basic political liberties guaranteed by our constitutional system, liberties that can coexist with a proper exercise of judicial remedial powers adequate to correct constitutional violations.