Courting a solution 

These are tough times for the courts. Many conservatives are frustrated with the judiciary, because sometimes it actually rules against them. Of course, it was the Terri Schiavo case that set off the latest round of judge-bashing, even though the system worked exactly as it should, in that the courts consistently and soberly ruled on the basis of fact and law, setting aside the understandable emotional factors of the case. The main decision-maker was a Reagan-appointed judge, but that didn’t insulate him from death threats and banishment from his Baptist church. Conservative activists pressured the U.S. Congress to pass a bill to force the re-attachment of Schiavo’s feeding tube. President Bush flew back to Washington from his Texas ranch in the middle of the night to sign the bill. His brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, considered sending state troopers to kidnap Schiavo in violation of the court order. All of this helps illustrate why the judicial branch is sometimes the only forum for impartial governance. Precisely because judges are not directly accountable to the electorate — and because they (in theory) do not need to cater to special interests to remain in office — they are not susceptible to easy political manipulation. That makes them different from, say, the Arkansas legislature. On Tuesday, 46 school districts in Arkansas joined the Rogers School District in petitioning the Arkansas Supreme Court to reopen the Lake View school funding case, arguing that the state legislature did not abide by the original decision. Their main contention is that legislators ignored the mandate to adequately and equitably finance the state’s education system by failing to increase the base per-pupil expenditure formula. The legislature defends its actions, pointing to some steps it took to increase the teacher insurance subsidy and allocate some money for school facility improvements. Gov. Mike Huckabee and Attorney General Mike Beebe voiced their support for the legislative remedy, although you have to wonder if Beebe’s choice of words (the legislature “has acted and continues to act”) indicates at least some degree of hesitation, if not shame. After all, the elected officials know the truth, just like everyone else. A sincere effort to comply with the Lake View decision requires a restructuring of our education system that is almost impossible to achieve by people answerable to public opinion and special interests. It means further school consolidation, more public funding (that would be diverted from competing parts of the budget), and very likely some additional taxes. Sometimes there are courageous leaders in the legislative and executive branches who accept the political consequences for doing what is required of them as public servants. However, the legislative session just ended was of the more common variety. A few principled and well-intentioned delegates were overwhelmed by their more numerous self-interested colleagues. More specifically, decisions about education funding were left until the final days, after other priorities were addressed. The governor, who has more clout than ever before as a result of term limits, said he was focused on health, highways, and higher education. He left the legislature to sort out the details of public school funding, and the legislature responded by spending most of their time handing out corporate tax breaks, grandstanding on social issues, and figuring out how to allocate money for local pork projects. By any rational measure, the legislature abdicated its responsibility to comply with the spirit and substance of the Lake View ruling. Only in the context of our state’s intractable political dynamics — namely, local resistance to change and the disproportionate influence of special interests — could you begin to argue that our elected representatives did “everything they could.” Over 50 years ago, another high court handed down a controversial and unpopular decision that our elected officials found politically impossible to comply with. Some ignored it, and others found technical ways to explain how they were going along with it when they actually were not. Finally, a few openly and emphatically defied the court order, prompting a constitutional crisis that necessitated drastic action. A funding formula is not as dramatic as questions of racial equality, but the two issues are certainly tied together at this time, and Lake View is every bit as important for Arkansas as Brown v. Board. The judicial branch may be easily maligned for sailing against the tides of public opinion, but it may also be the only vehicle for substantive education reform, just as it was the only vehicle for school integration in the 1950s. Then, as now, elected officials were powerless to act against the wishes of their constituencies. With that in mind, the state would be well served if the Supreme Court agreed to reopen Lake View and get more specific about how to achieve its mandate.

From the ArkTimes store


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Warwick Sabin

  • Helena's disappearing buildings

    Preservationists hope to slow demolitions.
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Trailers headed to Dumas

    Gov. Mike Beebe issued the following statement earlier today: Although this decision by FEMA to deny emergency funds to Desha County defies common sense, Arkansas will take care of its own people.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • Youth Ranch robbed, vandalized

    According to a press release we just received: The Donald W. Reynolds Campus of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranches (The Ranch) located near Fort Smith was vandalized overnight Thursday.  Items stolen during the break-in included all of the children’s saddles, food, tools and supplies from The Ranch’s carpentry shop and all equipment from its auto shop.  An investigation is underway with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Former state board of education chair Sam Ledbetter weighs in on Little Rock millage vote

    Ledbetter, the former state Board of Education chair who cast the decisive vote in 2015 to take over the LRSD, writes that Education Commissioner Johnny Key "has shown time and again that he is out of touch with our community and the needs of the district." However, Ledbetter supports the May 9 vote as a positive for the district's students and staff.
  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Latest in Warwick Sabin

  • Trickle-up theory

    Through thick and thin, there has always been one group of dedicated Americans whose support for President George W. Bush has been unwavering: The wealthy.
    • Mar 8, 2007
  • Time to go

    Tough questions face us in Iraq and it's time to confront them directly.
    • Mar 1, 2007
  • Plugged in

    One reason why the South remained solidly Democratic during the mid-20th century was the enduring gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who brought electricity to the poor, rural parts of the region. According to one historical account, “Althou
    • Feb 22, 2007
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Haralson, Smith named to Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame

Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Most Viewed

  • Forget the hairdo

    As the 2018 races begin to heat up, we see more and more women running for office. And as more women run, we will see more of the seemingly endless critiques of their appearances.
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.
  • Intracity tourism

    The issues that tug at my heartstrings are neighborhood stigma and neighborhood segregation, which are so prevalent in Little Rock. In my opinion, the solution to those problems is "intracity tourism."

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: O'Reilly's fall

    • O'Reilly should run for president. He's already cleared one major hurdle by proving he's a…

    • on April 27, 2017
  • Re: Intracity tourism

    • I love being a tourist in my own backyard. One of the advantages of being…

    • on April 27, 2017
  • Re: Art bull

    • Well, when the Bull was first put up there, it meant one thing, and that…

    • on April 24, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation