495 U.S. 33 (1990), argued 30 Oct. 1989, decided 18 Apr. 1990 by vote of 9 to 0; White for the Court, Kennedy, joined by Rehnquist, O’Connor, and Scalia, concurring. As a remedy for segregation in the Kansas City, Missouri, school district, the district court ordered a “magnet school” plan to attract suburban students back to the inner city schools—complete with a planetarium, a twenty-five-acre farm, a model United Nations, an art gallery, and swimming pools—at a cost of more than one-half billion dollars. The state had to pay 75 percent and the district 25 percent, but because the district's portion exceeded state law limits the court also ordered a doubling of the district's property tax.
Declining to review the plan, the Supreme Court unanimously disapproved the order directly raising the property tax. Reasoning from principles of equity and comity and thus avoiding a constitutional holding, Justice Byron White and four other justices approved an indirect remedy to set aside the state law tax limits and allow the district itself to raise the necessary future taxes. Justice Anthony Kennedy and three other justices saw this as a distinction without a difference and would have held that a federal court could not impose a state tax, directly or indirectly.
Five years later the case came back to the high court. This time, the justices held that the lower federal courts in Missouri had improperly ordered the state to help pay for the showcase desegregation plan for the Kansas City schools.
Thomas E. Baker