Three Supreme Court justices issued a broad attack yesterday on recent school desegregation policies, saying that "in all too many cities" school busing is causing white flight, resegregating schools and hurting the quality of education.
Justices Lewis F. Powell Jr., Potter Stewart and William H. Rehnquist urged a reexamination of the remedies currently used by the courts to achieve desegregation.
Their views were expressed in a 16-page dissent to the full court's refusal to consider a busing plan imposed by lower courts on Dallas. The refusal let stand a plan favored by proponents of extensive busing.
All three had expressed reservations about busing on other occasions, but never in such a concerted and lengthy form, constituting almost a manifesto against the extremes of school busing.
"The pursuit of racial balance at any cost," they wrote, "is without constitutional or social justification. Out of zeal to remedy one evil, courts may encourage or set the stage for other evils."
". . .It is increasingly evident that use of the busing remedy to achieve racial balance can conflict with the goals of equal educational opportunity and quality schools," they said.
It can "produce one-race school systems" which accelerate "the exodus to the suburbs of families able to move.
"The children of families remaining . . . are denied the opportunity to be part of an ethnically diverse student body and the general quality of the schools tends to decline."
The case from Texas, which the court declined to review yesterday, arose from the existence of numerous one-race schools in the Dallas Independent School District even after the imposition of a court-ordered busing plan. Desegregation proponents wanted a stronger plan to eliminate those one-race schools, and at their request, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the matter back to the District Court for an inquiry.
The Supreme Court last year agreed to review the Appeals Court action but changed its mind yesterday, possibly because two decisions last year dealt with the same issues. The court did not explain its decision. l
But the dissenters said the full Supreme Court's silence "might give rise to an inference of approval" of the Appeals Court action.
The Court of Appeals decision "seems certain to accelerate the destructive trend toward resegregation," the dissenters wrote.
Legal scholars said the three are likely to remain dissenters on busing questions in the future and that a reversal of direction by the rest of the justices seems unlikely at this stage.
In other action yesterday, the court: Ruled that the military may limit the rights of servicemen to circulate petitions without abridging the Constitution. The ruling conforms with previous Supreme Court decisions.
Refused to order the removal of a Christmas nativity scene from the front of the Denver City Hall. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had stayed a District Court order holding that government involvement in the exhibit was an unconstitutional entanglement in religious matters.
A Denver group called Citizens Concerned for Separation of Church and State asked the Supreme Court to order the display removed after the Appeals Court stay was issued.
The court declined yesterday without comment. The exhibit was to be removed yesterday anyway.
Ruled that the U.S. Customs Service may have to reimbuse an importer for the disappearance of $165,000 worth of camera equipment while it was in Customs custody.
The equipment had been held by Customs officials in New Jersey because of an alleged discrepancy in the import forms filled out by the Hatzlachh Supply Co.
When Customs released the equipment, a large portion was missing, and Hatzlachh sought reimbursement. The government refused, contending that it had no responsibility for the missing goods. The U.S. Court of Claims agreed.
The Supreme Court sent the matter back to the lower court for further consideration, saying there may be an "implied" contract making the government responsible for the missing goods.