Bench Memos

New Jersey Supreme Court Usurps State Education Budget

The New Jersey Supreme Court just issued its highly anticipated ruling in New Jersey’s ongoing school funding fight. According to the court, Governor Christie and state legislators must spend an extra $500 million next year

This is just another hit in a long string of cases wherein New Jersey’s highest court has taken on the role of judiciary, appropriator, and chief executive. The New Jersey constitution states that the “legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system” of free education from elementary school through high school. In the Abbott v. Burke line of cases, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided that it has the authority to determine what level of funding satisfies the constitution’s requirement of a thorough and efficient system and to order the state to spend more if the court is not satisfied. One would have to re-read Justice Blackmun’s opinion in Roe v. Wade to find a greater example of incoherence and willful judging masked as legal analysis.

The decisions have cost New Jersey taxpayers billions of dollars in higher taxes. According to the authors of this Federalist Society white paper, some place the estimated cost of complying with these decisions at more than $37 billion between 1998 and 2008 alone. 

There will likely be significant political tremors from this decision. This year there are state legislative elections in New Jersey and this may well become a defining issue. There are few issues on which citizens have greater cognitive dissonance than on controlling spending and education. The added offense of judicial usurpation may just tilt voters toward controlling spending this year.

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