Tag Archives: SCOTUS

What are Blaine Amendments and Why Might SCOTUS End Them?

Today the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hear oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Dept. of Revenue, a case that could have massive consequences for hundreds of thousands of K-12 students across the country — and might even lead to changes in several state constitutions. 

United States Supreme Court Building by Joe Ravi, Wikimedia license CC-BY-SA 3.0

The case centers on three families participating in Montana’s tax credit scholarship program, a policy that gave tax credits to people who donated to scholarship organizations, organizations which could then help low-income students pay for private K-12 schools, including private religious schools. However, the Montana Department of Revenue issued a rule stating that scholarships could not be used at religious schools, and later the Montana Supreme Court ruled that any aid to religious schools violated part of their state’s constitution, specifically a provision against public funding for “sectarian schools,” commonly known as a “Blaine Amendment.” Eighteen other states already have similar tax credit scholarship programs and 37 states have some form of Blaine Amendment. 

The three families, in partnership with the Institute for Justice, now have the chance to make their case before SCOTUS. The parents are arguing that their right to free expression of religion was violated by the ruling in Montana. The other side argues that funding any private school — religious or not — was unconstitutional at the state level and that overturning the state’s tax credit scholarship program did not lead to any violation of free expression. (SCOTUS started to define how state governments might provide funding to religious schools under the Constitution beginning in the 1970’s with Lemon v. Kurtzman and has been refined through subsequent cases, like Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in 2002 and Trinity Lutheran v. Comer in 2017.) Continue reading

Making a Federal Case Out of It: How Mark Janus Got to the Supreme Court

Mark Janus, child support specialist in the Illinois state family services agency, is challenging the state’s collective bargaining laws in a case that’s now before the U.S. Supreme Court. This case has potentially far-reaching implications, and oral arguments are scheduled for the end of this month.

When I was in law school, there were so many moments that I thought: “Why am I only learning this here, now, in law school? Everyone should know this stuff!” Civil procedure — the rules that govern the movement of a lawsuit through the courts — is one of those things. So let me outline the things you need to know to understand how Janus got to the Supreme Court. (Like any good lawyer, I’ll add that the answer to just about every legal question is actually “it depends…,” but for the sake of clarity, I’ve taken some liberties to simplify.)

The case started when Illinois’ governor Bruce Rauner sued to challenge his own state’s union agency fee statute, the law permitting collective bargaining units to charge all represented workers for the cost of representation even if they opt out of the union. The district court determined that his office hadn’t been harmed by the law and therefore lacked what’s called standing to sue. But the case was preserved by Mark Janus, whose lawyers had filed papers to be included as an intervener, an additional party who claims they have rights and/or injuries that are about to be adjudicated in an existing case. So when the court dismissed the Governor’s complaint, it opted to recognize Janus’s complaint as the operative one, meaning the one that’s current or pending before the court. Continue reading

Who Speaks for Teachers? The Supreme Court Will Have an Opinion

This week, the Supreme Court took a case that will ensure the excitement of the last few weeks will continue another term – at least for those in education.

SCOTUS has confirmed it will consider Friedrichs V. California Teachers Association, a case about the constitutionality of mandatory union dues. California teachers are arguing that paying mandatory union fees violates their free speech rights, especially when they disagree with the political positions the unions take. This is not the first time the Court has heard such an argument, and the ruling could have implications for public employees beyond teachers, but the case should be interesting in the education world because it literally pits a teacher, Rebecca Friedrichs, a 27-year veteran educator from Buena Park, California, against her union. It underscores the point that teacher voice is far from monolithic.

This recognition of the plurality of teacher voice is significant, as teacher demographics change and education reform efforts—from teacher evaluation to the Common Core State Standards—effect the daily experience of classroom teachers in different ways. The evolution of teacher voice has likely always been a trend, but the rise of teacher voice organizations has spotlighted the nuance these teachers add to the public debate about education policy decisions.

Take, for example, the debate over teacher tenure highlighted by the state lawsuit, Vergara v. California. Continue reading