Monday, September 9, 2013
The litigation in DOJ's suit over Louisiana's voucher program is moving fast. For the state, it is a little too fast. Two weeks ago, I posted on DOJ's claim that Louisiana's voucher program impermissibly interfered with standing desegregation orders. The district court quickly set a hearing for September 16. Now the state has responded that it wants to delay the hearing until November 15, claiming there is no rush because the new voucher applications will not start arriving until January. Louisiana's motivations for the delay are unclear. Maybe, the state is not prepared for the hearing. Maybe, it has ulterior motives.
In desegregation cases, school districts and states routinely try to delay proceedings over student assignment issues until the last moment. If they can push hearings to occur close to the start of a school year or, in this case, close to the voucher application period, judges are hard pressed to render a decision in time to prevent the policy from going into place. For instance, if a hearing over a new neighborhood assignment plan did not occur until the latter part of a summer and the underlying facts were complex, it would be very difficult for a judge to reach a decision before the start of the school year, and even more difficult to rule in favor of the plaintiffs because it might be too late to stop the plan. A court could find that an assignment plan was unconstitutional, but a district would lack the time to shape an alternative plan in the final days before school started. The net result could be that the unconstitutional plan would go into effect for, at least, one year any way. Knowing this, judges are discouraged from intervening quickly in the first instance. And the longer a plan remains in place the more interia there is to let it run its course.
Voucher plans do not create the same exact problems, as they are narrower in scope and complexity, but the more days that go by the more likely it is that Louisiana will eventually make equity claims on behalf of voucher students so that those already in the program can continue in their placements regardless of the underlying merits of DOJ's claim.