By Derek W. Black
The Minnesota Supreme Court has previously recognized that a fundamental right to an adequate education in the context of school funding challenge brought under the Education Clause of the state’s constitution. Now it is faced with the issue of whether Minneapolis-area schools is appropriate for determination – or “justiciable” – under that same Education Clause.
In Guzman v. Minnesota, a trial court judge ruled the plaintiffs’ segregation claim justiciable. The State appealed and the court of appeals reversed. The case is now before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
To support the Guzman plaintiffs, Education Law Center and over twenty of the nation’s leading education and constitutional law scholars have filed a “friend of the court” or amicus curiae brief before the Minnesota high court. The amicus brief argues that, under the state constitution’s mandate for the legislature to maintain a “general and uniform system of education,” plaintiffs’ claims of racial and socio-economic segregation are proper for adjudication by the trial court.
The amicus brief cites to the landmark Booker v. Plainfield and Sheff v. O’Neill rulings by the New Jersey and Connecticut Supreme Courts, respectively, along with the numerous decisions from high courts in peer states on school finance and other equity issues, to demonstrate the responsibility of courts to decide education rights claims. The brief also emphasizes Minnesota court precedent supports allowing the segregation claim in Guzman to proceed to trial.
In a powerful call for the Supreme Court to permit the case to go forward, the amicus brief argues that:
A claim that an education system is segregated by race is justiciable because, as state supreme courts have long and properly recognized, education clauses in a state constitution not only prohibit intentional segregation that is unlawful under Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), but also protect students against the negative effects of segregation when they are unintentional. Segregated schools are unequal schools and therefore do not provide a “general and uniform,” “thorough and efficient” system of education, as required by the Minnesota State Constitution.
The amicus brief also argues that the Minnesota Supreme Court’s 1993 ruling in Skeen v. State found a claim of inadequate school finance justiciable as a violation of the Legislature’s duty under the state constitution to provide a “general and uniform” system of education to all Minnesota children. The amicus brief argues that the segregation claim raised by the Guzman plaintiffs is “no different:”
There is no principled basis for treating a challenge to school segregation differently than a challenge to school financing. The Education Clause does not single out one or the other for special treatment, but is phrased in broad terms. Moreover, as in most lawsuits challenging compliance with a constitutional standard, it is a court’s proper role to apply and, in the context of individual cases such as this one, give meaning to the standard — and that is exactly what this Court did in Skeen. That is not making “policy,” as the Court of Appeals stated, but judging.
The amicus brief also brings to the Minnesota justices’ attention the “robust body of research” demonstrating “that segregated schools — especially hyper-segregated schools as alleged by Plaintiffs in their Complaint — severely disadvantage minority and economically disadvantaged students, in terms of academic performance and other crucial measures of achievement.” Further, the amicus brief emphasizes the research showing integrated schools “provide educational and other benefits to all students — white students and minorities alike.” Because these benefits are central to students’ ability to effectively participate in civic life, workplaces, and the global economy of the future, diverse education settings are a necessary component of an adequate education.
ELC and the Constitutional and Education Law Scholars were represented pro bono by Todd R. Geremia, James M. Gross and Christina Lindberg at the Jones Day law firm in New York and Minneapolis, and by Derek Black, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and David Sciarra, ELC Executive Director.
Derek W. Black is a professor at the University of South Carolina Law School.
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