Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Appellate Court Mangles the Law in Cruz Guzman Decision Part 2

In the our last post,  Jvonkorff on Education continued a series on one of the most important education issues to face Minnesota's Courts in this century -- whether Minnesota's Education Clause is enforceable, and if so, under what circumstances.   The issue arises in the recently decided Cruz-Guzman case, in which plaintiffs are trying to force the state to integrate racially isolated metropolitan schools.    The Court of Appeals decision will soon be reviewed by the Minnesota Supreme Court, and the outcome could reaffirm, or destroy, one of Minnesota's most important constitutional rights.  

Fundamental Right to an adequate education that meets all state standards.   In Skeen v State the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed that the Education Clause of Minnesota’s constitution provides a fundamental right to an education, including the right to “what is necessary to provide an adequate level of education which meets all state standards."    The Court did not order any relief in that case, because the Skeen plaintiffs did not contend that students in their school districts were failing to receive an education which met state standards, as they existed at the time Skeen was decided.   In November, 2015, several plaintiffs contended that students in racially isolated Minneapolis and St. Paul were receiving an inadequate education, but they did not identify the state standards that were not being met.   When the District Court refused to dismiss the case -- allowing the case to be prepared for a trial on the merits -- the State of Minnesota (Governor Dayton, Commissioner Casellius, and Attorney General Swanson) appealed..  They argued, among other things, that the plaintiffs' claim that they were receiving an inadequate education was not "justiciable."  

Justiciability:  Rights Protected by the Courts.   Jvonkorff on Education has previously written on the concept of justiciability here.    Its a complicated concept, but basically the state was asking the  Supreme Court to hold that enforcement of the state constitutional education clause in this particular case could not be decided by the courts, but was a matter entirely between the legislature and he voters at the polls.  Suppose for example, the legislature passed a law prohibiting citizens from saying prayers in the public square.    The First Amendment certainly protects that right, but if a Court wanted to avoid protecting that right, it could claim that the authors of the Constitution didn't want the Courts to protect First Amendment rights, since the First Amendment simply says that the Congress shall make no law ....prohibiting the free exercise [of religion].  Now, you would say, that is ridiculous:   the constitution uses the word "shall."  Surely the authors of the constitution intended that citizens could prevent the Congress from making a law that directly contradicts the first amendment, and of course you would be right.   Free speech is a fundamental right:  and if the Congress acted to prohibit its free exercise, the Courts would certainly step in and protect citizens against that law.

But the right to an adequate education stems from the Education Clause which also uses mandatory language.  In fact, the Minnesota Supreme Court has twice indicated that the Education Clause contains mandates which may be enforced.  In 1913,  the Supreme Court, in discussing the Education Clause, pointed out that other language also in the Constitution already gave the legislature power to operate a system of public education.   If the drafters of the Constitution merely wanted to give the legislature powers, without a mandate,  they had no need to add the Education Clause. The Education Clause did more than merely grant the power, it mandated that the legislature actually establish a system of public education whether it wanted to or not.  Writing for the Court, Justice Hallam wrote that the education clause  was not merely a discretionary grant of power, but was a mandate.  The Education Clause
"were not [merely] a grant of power to the Legislature, for all the powers there mentioned would have existed without such grant. They were inserted as a mandate to the Legislature, prescribing as a duty the exercise of this inherent power." 
Then again, in the Skeen case, mentioned above, the Supreme Court in 1993 once again  explicitly stated that the rights under the Education Clause were a mandate of the highest order, one that created a fundamental right, just like freedom of speech.  

Cruz-Guzman Court Holds that Plaintiffs' Case is "Not Justiciable"    So that brings us back to the Court of Appeals decision in Cruz-Guzman.   As we said, the plaintiffs claimed that a racially isolated education is, by its very nature,  an inadequate education, and therefore under the Education Clause, the Minneapolis and St. Paul schools, traditional publics and charters, should be required to integrate in some fashion.  But the plaintiffs did not identify any state standard that the Court could identify as being violated.   

Now, in response, the Court of Appeals might have said, "look, desegregation is not a right under the Education Clause.  It is an equal protect issue, and the courts have never forced school districts to integrate under the equal protection clause."   Or, it might have said, "we see no basis for holding that a racially isolated schools are inadequate, as long as they are delivering an education that meets state standards."   Either of these decisions would have been reasonable and founded on  past precedent.  But instead, the Court of Appeals said, in effect, adequacy is solely a matter for the legislature, and the Courts should not interfere, because its up to the legislature to deliver an adequate education, and if it fails to deliver that education, its not an issue for the judicial branch.   In the course of arriving at that decision, the Court of Appeals adopted a rather strange train of logic. 

We'll discuss the Court of Appeals rather tortured logic in the next JvonKorff on Education post.

Cruz-Guzman Decision Part 1   
Minneapolis Black Families Lead the Way in Fleeing to Other Schools
Past Series on Education and Constitutional law:

McCleary v. State, Part I   McCleary v State Requires Legislature to Base Funding on Actual Cost
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part II
McCleary v State and Determining the Cost of Education
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part III
 McCleary v. State: what level of scrutiny is appropriate for legislative funding decisions
Jvonkorff on Education McCleary v. State, Part IV
Correlating the cost of education: fund the child.
Jvonkorff on Education  McCleary V. State Part V
Summary of Decision Network for Excellence
Washington Supreme Court Blog  
JvonKorff on Education, The Rose Decision 
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part I
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part II
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part III
Minnesota's School Finance System is Unconstitutional, Part IV