Complex Justice

The Case of Missouri v. Jenkins

By Joshua M. Dunn

240 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 1 illus., 7 tables, 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-1461-8
    Published: February 2014
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-0660-6
    Published: September 2012

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit
In 1987 Judge Russell Clark mandated tax increases to help pay for improvements to the Kansas City, Missouri, School District in an effort to lure white students and quality teachers back to the inner-city district. Yet even after increasing employee salaries and constructing elaborate facilities at a cost of more than $2 billion, the district remained overwhelmingly segregated and student achievement remained far below national averages.

Just eight years later the U.S. Supreme Court began reversing these initiatives, signifying a major retreat from Brown v. Board of Education. In Kansas City, African American families opposed to the district court's efforts organized a takeover of the school board and requested that the court case be closed. Joshua Dunn argues that Judge Clark's ruling was not the result of tyrannical "judicial activism" but was rather the logical outcome of previous contradictory Supreme Court doctrines. High Court decisions, Dunn explains, necessarily limit the policy choices available to lower court judges, introducing complications the Supreme Court would not anticipate. He demonstrates that the Kansas City case is a model lesson for the types of problems that develop for lower courts in any area in which the Supreme Court attempts to create significant change. Dunn's exploration of this landmark case deepens our understanding of when courts can and cannot successfully create and manage public policy.

About the Author

Joshua M. Dunn is assistant professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
For more information about Joshua M. Dunn, visit the Author Page.


"Deeply researched, well informed, and clearly written. . . . A premier case study of race and education in the 1980s and 1990s."--The Journal of Southern History

"A meticulous, well-documented political history of school desegregation in the Kansas City Missouri School District. . . . I applaud him for the richness of detail in the history and politics of this tragic folly and his courage in characterizing the events and individuals. He does not pull any punches."--Political Science Quarterly

"A premier case study of race and education in the 1980s and 1990s."--Journal of Southern History

"A nicely written volume about a lesser-known case."--Choice

"Enlightening. . . . A highly informative and readable book that nicely blends legal and policy analysis. Complex Justice provides the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the historical, political, and social issues involved in Missouri v. Jenkins."--Law & Politics Review

"A masterly job of bringing this complex case to life. . . . Dunn's refusal to finger a convenient scapegoat forces the reader to confront a number of the disconcerting dilemmas of school desegregation."--Claremont Review of Books