Federal File

By Mark Walsh — September 12, 2001 1 min read

Starr’s Out?

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide by early next month whether it will review the constitutionality of the Cleveland voucher program.

If the justices agree to take the case, as many legal experts predict, it will set the stage for one of the most important rulings in education law in a generation. The stakes are so high in the appeal in Zelman v. Simmons- Harris that the pro-voucher side has been unable to keep an internecine squabble out of public view.

At issue is who would argue in support of vouchers should the justices grant full review of the case. The state of Ohio, which enacted the Cleveland voucher program and has been its chief defender in numerous lower-court battles, has decided that Judith French, an assistant state attorney general who has argued one case before the high court, would present the voucher argument.

Ohio Attorney General Betty D. Montgomery has made that choice even though her office has also hired former U.S. Solicitor General (and Whitewater Independent Counsel) Kenneth W. Starr for its voucher legal-defense team.

Mr. Starr argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court as solicitor general during the administration of former President George Bush. He also helped defend the Milwaukee voucher program in the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Clint Bolick, the litigation director of the Institute for Justice and a longtime voucher advocate, is appalled by the decision.

“The question of who will present the most important 30 minutes in the history of the school choice movement is very serious,” he said last week. “It would be an odd spectacle having him on the sidelines rather than at the podium” in the Supreme Court.

Neither Mr. Starr nor the Ohio attorney general’s office returned calls for comment last week. But Ms. Montgomery told the ThePlain Dealer in Cleveland that Mr. Bolick’s criticisms were “a real insult” to Ms. French.