Law & Courts

Justices Decline to Hear Nevada Case on Taxes for Schools

By Caroline Hendrie — March 31, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Supreme Court declined last week to get involved in a hard-fought legal battle in Nevada stemming from a protracted legislative deadlock last year over tax increases to pay for public schools.

In a ruling last July that sparked a political furor in the state, the Nevada Supreme Court held that the legislature’s duty to finance public schools overrode a voter-approved amendment to the state constitution that requires legislative supermajorities to increase taxes.

Asking the justices in Washington to reverse the Nevada court, lawyers for two dozen Republican state legislators had argued that the ruling represented “an egregious disregard of the people’s will.” Voters gave final approval in 1996 to a ballot initiative requiring the two-thirds votes.

“The decision stands as an unvarnished usurpation of the authority of the Nevada Constitution, a shameful violation of the judicial oath, and a repudiation of the principle that Nevada’s is a government of laws rather than men,” lawyers for the GOP legislators wrote in papers asking the federal high court to accept their appeal in Angle v. Guinn (Case No. 03-1037).

But lawyers for the state legislature told the justices that the case was moot and therefore unworthy of the court’s attention.

They noted that the disputed tax legislation ultimately passed each chamber with two-thirds support on July 21—despite the ruling 11 days earlier saying those supermajorities were unnecessary. Those votes ended a lengthy impasse over the education budget. The battle had dragged on through two special legislative sessions after tax measures to finance the schools repeatedly failed to reach the two-thirds threshold in the Assembly, the lower chamber, by a single vote.

That chain of events, lawyers for the legislature wrote in papers urging the high court not to take the case, “leaves this court with nothing to do but provide an advisory opinion on an abstract political question in a case with no actual, live controversy.”

The Nevada court fight erupted a minute past midnight on the first day of the current fiscal year, when Gov. Kenny Guinn, a Republican, asked the state supreme court to order the legislature to pass an education budget for the two- year period starting July 1.

In a 6-1 ruling on July 10, the state court held that funding for public education was simply too important to fall prey to a “procedural requirement” for a two-thirds majority. It ordered the legislature to “proceed expeditiously” to hammer out a tax plan to finance public education “under simple majority rule.”

“When a procedural requirement that is general in nature prevents funding for a basic, substantive right, the procedure must yield,” state Chief Justice Deborah Agosti wrote in the majority opinion, adding that “education is a basic constitutional right in Nevada.”

Return to Court

Shortly after the ruling, lawmakers did approve a tax bill by simple majorities. But the bill was never signed into law, and on July 21, after intense negotiations, legislative leaders mustered two-thirds majorities in both chambers for sizable tax increases to pay for a two-year, $1.65 billion school spending plan. (“States Open Fiscal Year on Shaky Ground,” Aug. 6, 2003.)

Meanwhile, the group of Republican legislators went back to the Nevada Supreme Court and asked it to reconsider the July 10 ruling. They contended that the ruling and its aftermath had violated the U.S. Constitution by running roughshod over their voting rights and those of Nevada voters at large, and by infringing the right of state citizens to choose their own form of representative government.

Last September, the state high court rejected the lawmakers’ arguments and reaffirmed its earlier opinion. On March 22, the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment to accept the lawmakers’ appeal.

Still, the dispute over last summer’s budget showdown is not over. A separate legal challenge to the Nevada Supreme Court’s ruling is now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, where it is slated for a hearing the middle of next month.

Related Tags:

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Federal Judge Denies Parents' Suit to Block Florida's Ban on School Mask Mandates
The parents argued that their children, due to health conditions, were at particular risk if any of their peers attend school without masks.
David Goodhue, Miami Herald
3 min read
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the opening of a monoclonal antibody site in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2021. The on-again, off-again ban imposed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to prevent mandating masks for Florida school students is back in force. The 1st District Court of Appeal ruled Friday, Sept. 10, that a Tallahassee judge should not have lifted an automatic stay two days ago that halted enforcement of the mask mandate ban.
Marta Lavandier/AP
Law & Courts Texas Attorney General Sues More School Districts That Require Masks
The Texas attorney general's office anticipates filing more lawsuits against districts flouting the governor’s order. Will Dallas be next?
Talia Richman, The Dallas Morning News
4 min read
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks at the Austin Police Association in Austin, Texas, on Sept. 10, 2020.
Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP
Law & Courts Can They Do That? Questions Swirl Around COVID-19 School Vaccine Mandates
With at least one large school district adopting a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, here is a look at the legal landscape for such a requirement.
5 min read
Image of a band-aid being placed on the arm.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts High Court Justice Rejects Student's Bid to Block Removal Over Sexual Harassment Claim
Justice Elena Kagan denied a California student's effort to return to school after his 'emergency' suspension under Title IX regulations.
3 min read
The Supreme Court in Washington as seen on Oct. 7, 2020. After more than a decade in which the Supreme Court moved gradually toward more leniency for minors convicted of murder, the justices have moved the other way. The high court ruled 6-3 Thursday along ideological lines against a Mississippi inmate sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for fatally stabbing his grandfather when the defendant was 15 years old. The case is important because it marks a break with the court’s previous rulings and is evidence of the impact of a newly more conservative court.
The U.S. Supreme Court as seen on Oct. 7, 2020.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP