Law & Courts

Sauce for Gander: Districts Sue Court in Finance Dispute

By Mark Walsh — February 25, 2008 1 min read

It’s not unusual for school districts to band together to file an education finance lawsuit against their state government.

What is unusual—and may be unprecedented—is for districts to sue the members of their state’s supreme court in a school finance case. That’s happened in Idaho. And, to the surprise of observers, the school districts have the upper hand so far.

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that the state’s school finance system was unconstitutional. But some 15 districts that brought the suit soon complained that the court failed to require the state to come up with a remedy. (“Funding Advocates Accuse Idaho’s High Court Of ‘Cop-Out’,” Nov. 29, 2006.)

The districts sued the state high court justices in federal court.

See Also

See other stories on education issues in Idaho. See data on Idaho’s public school system.

On Feb. 7, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill of Boise rejected the supreme court justices’ motion to dismiss the federal suit. The justices on the five-member court had argued that only the U.S. Supreme Court may review the final ruling of a state’s highest court.

But Judge Winmill said that the situation was not a matter of the losing party seeking review of the state supreme court’s decision. The districts were the prevailing party, he said, and they “take issue with the apparent lack of remedy.”

The judge did appear to try to nudge the state high court to clarify matters on its own.

“An expedited order by the Idaho Supreme Court clarifying the posture of the state-court action may be all that is needed to facilitate a quick and inexpensive resolution of this case,” Judge Winmill said in his ruling.

Merlyn W. Clark, a Boise lawyer representing the state justices, told the Idaho Statesman newspaper that the federal judge hadn’t addressed the justices’ argument that he does not have jurisdiction.

Robert C. Huntley, a Boise lawyer representing the school districts, said in an interview that the federal judge wasn’t yet ordering the state high court to do anything.

“But he made it very clear that if we don’t get a remedy phase, that [the supreme court justices] are violating our 14th Amendment due process,” said Mr. Huntley, who himself served on the Idaho Supreme Court, from 1982 to 1989.

A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2008 edition of Education Week

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