Thursday, August 25, 2016

Vergara’s dissenting justices write for history

The decision is even more of a disgrace since the court didn't even hear (much less rule on) the case. Nevertheless, two courageous justices wrote scathing dissents:

Unfortunately, Liu and Cuellar were not given the chance. In a shameful abdication of duty, 4 of the 7 California Justices refused to even listen to the arguments of Beatriz Vergara and her fellow plaintiffs. Those four justices, Carol Corrigan, Kathryn Werdegar, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, and Leondra Kruger, thus join the ranks of names such as those of Roger Taney and Henry Brown that will be forever tainted by their defense of a brutal and discriminatory system.

Fortunately, California's rules allow dissents even in cases of accepting or denying a petition for review. Thus, Justices Liu and Cuéllar, had the opportunity to keep hope alive for future petitioners. Justice Liu's dissent included the following language:

"One of our criteria for review is whether we are being asked "to settle an important question of law." Under any ordinary understanding of that criterion, our review is warranted in this case. … The trial court found, and the Court of Appeal did not dispute, that the evidence in this case demonstrates serious harms. The nine schoolchildren who brought this action, along with the millions of children whose educational opportunities are affected every day by the challenged statutes, deserve to have their claims heard by this state's highest court. … [The case asks] whether the education clauses of our state Constitution guarantee a minimum level of quality below which our public schools cannot be permitted to fall. This issue is surely one of the most consequential to the future of California. Despite the gravity of the trial court's findings, despite the apparent error in the Court of Appeal's equal protection analysis, and despite the undeniable statewide importance of the issues presented, the court decides that the serious claims raised by Beatriz Vergara and her eight student peers do not warrant our review. I disagree."

For his part, Justice Cuéllar wrote:

"What Beatriz Vergara and eight of her fellow public school students allege in this case is that they, and vast numbers of children in our state's public schools, are burdened by certain statutes governing teacher dismissal, retention, and tenure that create a surplus of grossly ineffective teachers. … Nothing in California's Constitution or any other law supports the Court of Appeal's reasoning. … Even if one ignores the appellate court's inconsistency with settled law, the question its approach begs is as simple as it is important: Why? … Beatriz Vergara and her fellow plaintiffs raise profound questions with implications for millions of students across California. They deserve an answer from this court. Difficult as it is to embrace the logic of the appellate court on this issue, it is even more difficult to allow that court's decision to stay on the books without review in a case of enormous statewide importance. … There is a difference between the usual blemishes in governance left as institutions implement statutes or engage in routine trade-offs and those staggering failures that threaten to turn the right to education for California schoolchildren into an empty promise. Knowing the difference is as fundamental as education itself. Which is why I would grant review."

Beatriz Vergara has reached the end of her K-12 career, and thus the damage to her (and millions of other students) has already been done. For future students, however, Justices Liu and Cuéllar have done a vital service. For all the hundreds of millions of dollars that education bureaucrats spend every year to lobby against education reform, they cannot win if they keep losing the moral high ground. When justices such as Liu and Cuéllar, who have been known throughout their careers as among the most inspiring, moral, and thoughtful members of the bar write such compelling dissents, other courts in other states will take notice. The first legal victory for these students will not come in California, but it will come.


Vergara's dissenting justices write for history

Posted on August 24, 2016 8:30 am by Dmitri Mehlhorn

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