Local Taxes, Federal Courts, and School Desegregation in the Proposition 13 Era

This Note examines a federal court’s dilemma when the remedy of school desegregation collides with the trend of tax limitation – when a school desegregation order requires funds that the local school authorities do not have and cannot raise. Can the district court order a local tax levy to fund school desegregation when the school authorities have already reached their maximum taxing limit? Is there a better alternative remedy?

To tackle those questions, this Note first elucidates three equitable principles to guide courts in fashioning desegregation decrees. It then explores the history of judicial power to order state and local governments to levy taxes and finds that power tightly circumscribed. In Section III, the Note offers an alternative to the court-ordered tax levy: a decree that directs local school authorities to desegregate, letting them decide whether to fund the desegregation by raising taxes or by reallocating their present budget. It assesses this proposal in light of the three equitable principles of desegregation and concludes that the proposal carries out those principles more faithfully than a court-ordered tax levy.