Thursday, March 16, 2017

Case Challenging Segregation As a Violation of State Right to Education Heading to Minnesota Supreme Court

On Monday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals in Cruz-Guzman v. Minnesota ruled that plaintiffs' challenge to segregation in public schools was non-justiciable under the state constitution.  Plaintiffs, among other claims, argued that segregated schools deprive students of an adequate education.  While the court recognized that the state has a duty to provide a uniform, thorough, and efficient education under the state constitution, the court reasoned that the constitution does not include any qualitative standards or judicially manageable standards.  Thus, it lacked a basis upon which to find that segregation did not or did not deprive students of the requisite level of education.  The court wrote:

Appellants argue that the Minnesota Constitution does not provide textual support for respondents’ assertion of a constitutional right to an “adequate” education. As appellants note, “[T]he word ‘adequate’ does not appear in Minnesota’s Education Clause.” Instead, the Education Clause sets forth the legislature’s duty to establish a “general and uniform system of public schools” and to secure, “by taxation or otherwise,” a “thorough and efficient system of public schools.” Minn. Const. art. XIII, § 1. The clause does not state that the legislature must provide an education that meets a certain qualitative standard. Moreover, assuming without deciding that the Education Clause requires the provision of
an education of a certain quality, the clause does not set forth the relevant qualitative standard.

Respondents’ request for relief therefore requires the judiciary to both read an adequacy requirement based on a qualitative standard into the language of the Education Clause and to define the qualitative standard. Respondents have a different view, arguing 9 that the judiciary merely needs to determine whether appellants have violated the purported constitutional duty to provide an adequate education. We disagree: to determine whether appellants have violated the purported obligation to provide an adequate education, we must also define “adequate” and the attendant qualitative standard.

The problem of justiciability is not new to adequacy claims.  Nearly ever court in a school funding and quality cases has had to confront the problem.  A majority of courts, when entertaining similar claims, have held that their constitution includes a quality or adequacy competent and that courts could define its rough outlines. 

The plaintiffs' lead attorney, Dan Shulman, has already said they will appeal to the state Supreme Court. Dan Shulman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.  As Twin Cities Pioneer Press reports,

“Courts all over the country have said that an adequate education is something that courts can determine, and in our view that includes the Minnesota Supreme Court,” he said in an interview Monday.  Shulman noted that in a 1993 ruling on a school-funding lawsuit, the Supreme Court established that Minnesota children have a fundamental right to an adequate education.

This case is definitely worth watching.  As some may recall, Shulman represented plaintiffs in a segregation case two decades ago that alleged segregation violated the state education clause.  The case was successful on multiple counts, so much so that the state settled the case before the state supreme court could rule on it.  That settlement handed plaintiffs a desegregation remedy, but failed to establish precedent on which later plaintiffs could rely.  Thus, the issue still remains one of first impression in Minnesota.

Get the full opinion here.  Also, for a full explanation of how segregation can amount to a violation of state constitutional rights to an adequate and equal education, see here.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/education_law/2017/03/case-challenging-segregation-as-a-violation-of-state-right-to-education-heading-to-minnesota-supreme.html

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