California Governor’s Supreme Court Candidate Writes Opinion Derailing Adequate School Funding Case

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Credit: Courtesy of the Governor’s Office

Justice Martin Jenkins, candidate for Governor Gavin Newsom for the Supreme Court of California.

The article was updated on October 14 to clarify that the decision of the four Supreme Court justices not to hear the two lawsuits did not necessarily mean that they agreed with the appeal court’s decision. .

Martin Jenkins received a lot of praise last week after his appointment by Governor Gavin Newsom to the California Supreme Court. Jenkins, 66, who is said to be the first openly gay High Court judge, served for three decades in state and federal courts, where he has been called a “moderate” judiciary. Since last year, he has been Newsom’s nominations secretary.

However, lawyers who had sought to persuade the courts to be allies in demanding more money for California schools had a different and more low-key view of the appointment, tied to a particular decision. Four years ago, as a state appeals judge, Jenkins dashed their hopes. He wrote the ruling that there was no constitutional basis for two lawsuits arguing that the state had not adequately funded K-12 education. Months later, a majority of the state’s Supreme Court refused to take the case, and the lawsuits are dead.

Now, with Jenkins’ nomination almost certain to be approved, it could be years, if not more, before other defenders try again. Lawyers will be reluctant to go to court, “unless another judge steps out of court,” said Aaron Tang, a law professor at UC Davis School of Law.

Together, the two related lawsuits, filed in 2010 in the midst of the Great Recession, represented a massive effort by civil rights groups, school organizations, and low-income student advocates to convince California courts that the low per student funding deprived students of their basic right to a public education.

The complainants in Campaign for Quality Education v. California included the nonprofit Public Advocates law firm and powerful volunteer lawyers representing low-income families. A coalition of school organizations – the California School Boards Association, the Association of California School Administrators, and the state PTA – as well as the Stanford Law School Youth & Education Law Project, with a particular focus on student interests low-income, filed Robles -Wong v. California. It was named after student plaintiff Maya Robles-Wong, who ten years ago was a student at Alameda High School. The California Teachers Association was also involved in the case.

In their lawsuits, the lawyers argued that the state set high expectations, thanks to rigorous academic standards, like the Common Core Standards, which the state adopted in the year the lawsuits were filed, but schools insufficiently funded to ensure that students can meet standards. They pointed to California’s low ranking in per-student funding, high student-teacher and counselor ratios, low nationwide test scores, and large disparities in achievement between racial, ethnic, and income groups like evidence.

Lawyers have reportedly worked out with witnesses and more evidence (including, perhaps, the impact of a more equitable school funding system, the Local Control Funding Formula, which was passed in 2013), but they did not have the opportunity. They were unable to pass the first red light, establishing a constitutional basis for proceeding with the trial.

First, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven Brick, then Jenkins, writing the majority opinion in a 2-1 decision of the 1st San Francisco District Court of Appeals, ruled that funding levels are strictly the prerogative of the legislature. The vague directives of the State Constitution which the legislature “provide” and “maintain and support” public schools and “encourage by all appropriate means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral and agricultural improvement” are silent on the requirement for a minimum level of quality education and funding, Jenkins wrote in April 2016.

Jenkins suggested that judges shouldn’t assume they know better than lawmakers how to set appropriate funding levels. “Rather, constitutional sections leave the difficult and policy-laden questions associated with the adequacy and funding of education to legislature,” he wrote.

Four months later, in August 2016, the California Supreme Court voted 4 to 3 not to hear the two cases and upheld Jenkins’ decision. The four judges chose not to comment, so it is not possible to know whether the judges agreed with Jenkins or did not want to hear the case for other reasons. But two of the three judges of the minority, Goodwin Liu and Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, issued long dissent.

“Paper promise” without funding

After noting in his 11-page response the poor performance of California students compared to students from other states, Liu wrote, “The schoolchildren who brought these lawsuits do not claim to have a right to a world-class education. They only ask if the California Constitution protects them from deprivation of a minimally adequate education. California children deserve to know whether their basic right to education was a “written promise or a real guarantee,” he wrote.

Liu expressed the hope that one day the issues raised by the two lawsuits would be in court again. Lawyers for the plaintiffs declined to comment directly on Jenkins’ appointment last week, saying they never discuss which judges they might appear before. But they too have said they would like to have a chance, with a full trial, to persuade Jenkins and the others to change their mind.

Although Jenkins’ findings were “very disappointing,” Professor William Koski of Stanford Law School, one of Robles-Wong’s attorneys, wrote in an email that “if and once presented a documenting case the state’s continued failure to adequately fund education and the continued underachievement of California students, especially African American and Latin American students, I hope Justice Jenkins will take the opportunity to review her decision.

John Affeldt, attorney general for Public Advocates, said he hoped Jenkins “would keep an open mind if it came back to him.” Jenkins would have a “broader role” in shaping the law as a member of the Supreme Court than he had as a judge of an appeals court. The conversation would be different, he said.

This conversation may not take place, however. Since this Supreme Court refused to hear the case, a judge has retired and Joshua Groban, appointed by former Governor Jerry Brown, has taken his place. Its position on the adequacy of funding is unknown. But Jenkins would replace Judge Ming Chin, who, although recognized as the court’s most conservative judge, joined Liu and Cuellar in voting for Robles-Wong and Campaign for Quality Education to be heard.

So swapping him out for Jenkins makes four, maybe five justices who may be reluctant to confront the legislature over education funding levels.

In an analysis of the case in 2017 in the Columbia Law Review, Koski wrote that, since California is often viewed as “an indicator” of where the nation is heading, the decision of the State Supreme Court of failure to hear the lawsuits may signal, after five decades of litigation across the country, the “judiciary’s” distrust and weariness of the remedy to demand money to cure the ills of education. ”

Kosksi said that shouldn’t mean giving up the fight for sufficient and equitable school funding. Instead, he suggested that the “next generation” of education litigation should consist of smaller lawsuits focused on “discreet and judicially manageable educational wrongs and remedies”.

Jenkins’ opinion in Robles-Wong was his most important decision on K-12 education as an appellate judge. In 2016, he drafted the decision upholding part of Governor Brown’s public pension reform law of 2012 without addressing the larger question of whether employers have the power to significantly change employee pension benefits. existing. The Supreme Court unanimously endorsed this point of view.

Jenkins, a registered Democrat, would be Newsom’s first court candidate and would be the second black judge, along with Leondra Kruger, on the current court. Elevating his secretary of appointments to the post, Newsom said: “I have seen with my own eyes that Judge Jenkins possesses as much brilliance as he is humble.”

Tang, of UC Davis Law School, said that while he also disagreed with Jenkins’ decision on funding schools, it was “carefully written and thought out.” Jenkins “has been grappling with the arguments, so there is no reason to conclude anything but that he would be a well-respected judge on the court.”

Jenkins is to be confirmed by the Judicial Appointments Commission, made up of Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Tani Cantil-Sakauye and J. Anthony Kline, the senior judge of the state appeals court. . He would serve two years and then be elected for a 12-year term.

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