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Alexander Hamilton characterized the federal judiciary as having “no influence over either the sword or the purse; no direction either of the strength or wealth of society.” In the years since the landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, however, federal courts have taken an increasingly active role in controlling the use of resources in school districts where de jure segregation has been found to exist. In examining facts which are more legislative than adjudicative in nature, the courts have often shaped relief which intervenes in the functions of an elected body of officials, in some cases involving the court or its appointed special master in the day to day operation of the school.

This judicial activism has not been limited to schools. Federal court orders have controlled the operations of prisons, police departments, and state mental health systems. These decrees can be incredibly detailed; the order enforcing the judgment in Wyatt v. Stickney even specifies the temperature of the hot water supply in Alabama's mental health facilities.

The propriety of such relief, and particularly the degree to which federal equitable relief may intrude into what have traditionally been locally controlled activities, has recently been called into question. By combining the traditional limitations of equity jurisprudence with notions of federalism, the Supreme Court has established a delimiting doctrine for the lower federal courts when they exercise equity jurisdiction in civil rights cases. This comment will examine the growth of equitable relief in school desegregation cases and the impact which this limiting doctrine has had. The propriety of using the federal/state relationship as a guide for relief where a violation of the Constitution has been found to exist will also be analyzed.”

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