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:


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.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Academic Integrity in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
As AI writing tools rapidly evolve, learn how to set standards and expectations for your students on their use.
Content provided by Turnitin
Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Chronic Teacher Shortage: Where Do We Go From Here?  
Join Peter DeWitt, Michael Fullan, and guests for expert insights into finding solutions for the teacher shortage.
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.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
The Science of Reading: Tools to Build Reading Proficiency
The Science of Reading has taken education by storm. Learn how Dr. Miranda Blount transformed literacy instruction in her state.
Content provided by hand2mind

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 Supreme Court Asks for Biden Administration's Views on Legal Status of Charter Schools
Stemming from a suit over a North Carolina school's dress code, the issue is whether "public" charter schools act with government authority.
3 min read
Thunder storm sky over the United States Supreme Court building in Washington DC.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts West Virginia Law Barring Transgender Girls From School Sports Upheld by Federal Judge
The decision is a turnabout for the judge, who cast doubt on the law in 2021 and issued an order allowing a transgender girl to compete.
4 min read
Judge gavel on law books with statue of justice and court government background. concept of law, justice, legal.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts A Teacher Argued His MAGA Hat Was Protected Speech. Here's What a Federal Appeals Court Said
Did a principal violate a teacher's rights when she told him not to bring his Donald Trump-inspired hat to a racial-sensitivity training?
4 min read
Image of a gavel
Law & Courts School District Policy Basing Restroom Access on 'Biological Sex' Upheld by Appeals Court
The sharply divided appellate court rules against transgender student Drew Adams and possibly tees up a major fight in the Supreme Court.
5 min read
Transgender student Drew Adams speaks with reporters outside of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on Dec. 5, 2019.
Transgender student Drew Adams speaks with reporters outside a federal courthouse in Atlanta in 2019. The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled against him on Dec. 30.
Ron Harris/AP