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Appeals panel sides with state in challenge on tax system

ATLANTA (AP) — A federal appeals court has sided with the state of Alabama in rejecting a claim that its lowest-in-the-nation property taxes had fostered continued racial segregation in higher education.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy's ruling in 2004 that the state's property tax system does not cause "the continuing segregation of its colleges and universities."

Plaintiffs had challenged the tax system as part of the 25-year-old higher education desegregation case, which was settled in December.

"We cannot permit federal lawsuits to be transformed into amorphous vehicles for the rectification of all alleged wrongs," 11th Circuit Chief Judge James Edmondson and Judges James Hill and Phyllis Kravitch wrote in a decision reported Thursday by The Birmingham News.

Robert Hunter, who represented the state in the higher ed case and in the property tax challenge, had made a similar argument.

"We were not trying to solve all the problems of the world or even all the problems of Alabama," Hunter said. "While this may be a problem in Alabama, it's not one that was to be addressed in this litigation."

Jim Blacksher, chief attorney for the plaintiffs, said he planned to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.

According to the 27-page decision issued by the three-judge panel, the plaintiffs argued that, because Alabama's constitutional limits on property taxes did not provide sufficient funding for K-12 schools, the state had to make up the difference with funds that should have gone to higher education. As a result, colleges and universities had to raise tuition and fewer dollars were available for student aid, and that meant lower black enrollment.

But the court said Murphy ruled "there are simply far too many links in this chain to permit us to infer that Alabama's method of funding its K-12 education causes, in any meaningful way, the continuing segregation of its colleges and universities. We agree."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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