Bench Memos

In Response to Voucher Parents, DOJ Wisely Tucks Tail in Louisiana School-Choice Case

This Justice Department has been no friend to school-choice programs across the country, and the silly lawsuit in Louisiana is no exception. On August 22 of this year, DOJ filed a motion in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana pursuant to a 40-year-old open desegregation order, arguing in effect that allowing minority students to escape failing schools impeded government efforts to integrate students into failing schools.

In preparation for litigation, voucher students and parents and the Louisiana Black Alliance for Education Options filed motions to intervene in the lawsuit. They argued, for example, that “it is perverse to attempt to thwart [intervening] children’s educational opportunities by invoking a desegregation decree intended to vindicate their educational opportunities.”

Apparently DOJ didn’t want real, live student beneficiaries of voucher programs to make it into court. In an order yesterday denying intervention, Judge Ivan L. R. Lemelle noted that DOJ had recently opposed intervention by contending that it was not, in fact, trying to stop the Louisiana school-choice program. Rather, DOJ had “abandon[ed] its previous request that the Court ‘permanently enjoin the State from issuing any further voucher awards’” and that instead, all DOJ is asking for in the case is that the court “create a process to ensure that the State provides necessary information.”

This appears to be, in part, a face-saving operation by DOJ. In ordinary litigation, parties do not implicitly abandon requests for relief buried on page four of a response to a motion to intervene.

But whether because of the public outcry against DOJ excesses, fear of arguing untenable positions in open court against angry parents and students, or an attempt to pull a fast one, it appears that DOJ has dropped this fight against the Louisiana program.

As Judge Lemelle noted, however, “the position of the United States may again change. . . . Should the United States renew its request to enjoin the voucher program, Proposed Intervenors are free, at that time, to file a new motion to intervene.” If for example, the political winds again change, and DOJ feels free to revive these portions of the lawsuit, ever-vigilant voucher students and parents should once again join the court battle. For today, however, these parents and their children have won.


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