Although law and ideology are the main factors that impact a judge’s ruling, Adam Liptak reports on a new influencing interest: having a daughter. Writing for The New York Times, Liptak discusses why personal experience is informing the law.
Writing for Jost on Justice, Kenneth Jost argues why Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu’s decision on the unconstitutionality of the California tenure system for teachers was a “drive-by assault on teachers unions” while Slate’s Jordan Weissmann comments on the false statistic cited in Judge Treu’s opinion that between 1 and 3 percent of California’s teachers are “grossly ineffective.”
Reading the opinion of Judge Treu in Vergara v. California, one gets the sense that the state did not fight very hard to defend its teacher tenure protections from constitutional challenge. From the judge’s recitation of the evidence, it appears that the state “defendant” conceded or provided evidence that there were thousands of grossly ineffective teachers in the California system, that school administrators didn’t bother to try to fire them because they thought it was too hard, that poor teachers adversely affect students’ education and that poor teachers are disproportionately found in schools with large populations of minority and low income students.
Based on this evidence, much of it generously submitted by the state defendant, Judge Treu found that the laws that provide teachers with tenure, due process prior to termination and seniority protection from layoff deprive minority and low income students of their fundamental interest in an education of equal quality. Further, and not surprisingly given the recitation of the evidence, the judge found that the defendants did not show a compelling interest to meet the high burden required by the application of strict scrutiny to these laws.
The California statutes at issue included the following: 1) the statute that provides for teacher tenure after a two year probationary period; 2) the statutes that provide due process for tenured teachers that school districts intend to terminate; and 3) the statute that provides for layoffs on the basis of seniority, with limited exceptions. The judge held that each of these statutes denied students a quality education by allowing poor teachers to remain in the classroom. While the opinion mentions that two unions representing teachers were permitted to intervene, there is little mention of any evidence supportive of the statutes at issue, which might have provided the justification required to establish their constitutionality.
Sixty years ago the U.S. Supreme Court issued its unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education overturning Plessy v. Ferguson and uprooting the deep roots of segregation in our society. The victory came after decades of legal work, by a small group of fierce civil rights advocates, paid little and subjected to threats and public denigration. Over the past two years, a team of corporate lawyers, retained and paid by multi-millionaires, have sought to cloak themselves in that rich legacy.
Their case, styled Vergara v. California, challenges the statutes that provide California teachers with their most basic employment protections – 1) the right to notice and an opportunity for a hearing before an impartial panel before an experienced teacher is terminated; and 2) the rule that layoffs for budget reasons proceed in qualification (credential) and seniority order unless the district has a special need to depart from that order. None of the challenged statutes determine a teacher’s class assignment or classify teachers or students in any respect; rather they each apply to all teachers in California across the board.
As an initial matter, the two month trial demonstrated that none of the nine student plaintiffs in the case had been harmed in any way, much less denied their fundamental right to an education under the California Constitution. Two of the plaintiffs go to charter schools, which are not subject to the challenged statutes and two more attend Los Angeles pilot schools in which teachers may be released at the end of each school year without regard to the challenged statutes. The remaining plaintiffs failed to prove that they had ever been assigned to a “grossly ineffective” teacher due to the challenged statutes, which is the term plaintiffs coined to describe the type of teachers whose assignment to a classroom could implicate students’ fundamental rights. In fact, many of their teachers that they sought to tar as grossly ineffective had stellar evaluations and one was recently selected as a teacher of the year.
Despite this basic failure of proof, the trial judge struck down all of the employment protections for all teachers in California. The judge applied strict scrutiny to the statutes, finding that some small fraction of teachers—on the order of 1-3 percent—are “grossly ineffective,” and that those teachers’ students have been deprived of their fundamental right to an education. Because, in the judge’s view, each statute could be improved in some respect (by extending teachers’ probationary period, stripping down dismissal rights, and reconfiguring layoff criteria), the judge concluded that none could survive strict scrutiny.
More than 500 of Pennsylvania’s inmates are serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. In an op-ed for The New York Times, ACS board member Linda Greenhouse notes the Supreme Court’s dismissal of a case involving a Pennsylvania inmate serving a mandatory life sentence for a crime he committed at age 17.
Rick Hills at Prawfsblawg reviews the decision by Judge Rolf M. Treu of the Los Angeles Superior Court to dismantle the California tenure system for teachers.
Michael Kagan at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights breaks down Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio, discussing the Supreme Court’s ruling on the 2002 Child Status Protection Act and why young immigrants may be waiting a lot longer to be with their families.
State judges met in Philadelphia to address how special interests are influencing the court system.
Peter Hardin at GavelGrab reports on how politicized courts are contributing to a miscarriage of justice.
April Dembosky at NPR explains how registering for the Affordable Care Act may prevent former inmates from returning to a life of crime.