Bench Memos

Count Me Very Skeptical

I learned from the Corner of this ruling today (in Vergara v. State) in which a state  judge in California has concluded that four statutes “cause the potential and/or unreasonable exposure of grossly ineffective teachers to all California students in general and to minority and/or low income students in particular, in violation of the equal protection clause of the California constitution.” The statutes at issue provide teachers tenure, protect them against dismissal, and require that layoffs be based on seniority.

I detest the damage that self-serving teachers unions have inflicted on the public schools, especially those in low-income areas. So from a purely result-oriented perspective, I would very much welcome today’s ruling. But I can’t say that I find its reasoning very persuasive.

The court extrapolates from state supreme court precedents (precedents that are highly dubious at best but that bind lower state courts) “an overarching theme [that] is paradigmatized: the Constitution of California is the ultimate guarantor of a meaningful, basically equal educational opportunity being afforded to the students of this state.” Never mind that the relevant constitutional provisions the court cites seem to give broad discretion to the “Legislature.” Declaring that the statutes shall be subject to strict scrutiny, the court rushes to the conclusion that they are unconstitutional.

On a first read at least, I don’t see how the court is doing anything other than second-guessing the legislature’s policy judgments.

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