by Max Brantley
The case falls now to federal Judge Price Marshall of Jonesboro. He's at least the fifth federal judge to preside over the case, which dates to the mid-1980s in terms of the Little Rock School District's suit against the state for promoting segregation here. But its roots go back to the 1950s.
Judge Miller's departure isn't cause for tears. His decision to end state funding in Pulaski County came without notice. It wasn't argued or briefed. It was cheered only by demagogue Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and legislators slavering after the money for themselves.
Miller, a black man, clearly had strong beliefs about the benefits of state spending on education of black children. It hasn't achieved learning equality, true — in Pulaski County or anywhere else. That doesn't prove that the spending was without benefit, however. He also showed little interest in the damage he'd do to PROVEN desegregation programs — magnet schools and transfer programs that send white children into neighborhoods such as College Station for superior education. He seemed to care little at the disruption in lives caused by his order weeks before a new school year to turn education on its ear here. Cooler heads at the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals put an end to that, fortunately, by staying his ruling. Cooler heads still should negotiate an end to this, but if we look to McDaniel for coolness, we waste our effort.
We can only guess what Miller might think about Helena, a dysfunctional city if there ever was, where his family has long been politically powerful. That power won him a court seat courtesy of Sen. Blanche Lincoln during a Republican administration (much to the chagrin of Republicans). Is he unhappy that the state tossed school leadership that couldn't even produce a high school class schedule for the next school year? Is he unhappy about the state tossing leadership that was rapidly spending the district into a deficit, with impenetrable bookkeeping? Maybe he thought taking over Helena allowed the Pulaski takeover. Or maybe he was happy about the Helena takeover. He didn't say. But he was a judge whose beliefs on school issues were too close to the surface. He should be gone on that account alone. He's decided to take his leave. Good for him. Good riddance, too, based on his jurisprudence so far. Will Judge Marshall rehear the show-cause petitions in which Miller wanted to end interdistrict transfer funding as well as all other desegregation aid? Much court action is to come.
Here's how the judge put his decision to recuse:
On Monday, June 20, 2011, the State of Arkansas, acting through the Arkansas Department of Education, dissolved the boards of education for separate defendant Pulaski County Special School District and the Helena-West Helena School District, and removed the superintendents of both districts. In that the undersigned has significant knowledge of the situation in Helena-West Helena and has deeply held personal opinions as to the reasons for and timing of the takeover of the Helena-West Helena School District, the undersigned would find it difficult to render decisions unaffected by his personal opinions. For this reason a conflict is created and recusal is necessary.
UPDATE: A Helena friend provides some background. Miller's brother, Kyle, was on the School Board, and among those removed. The judge is described as a friend of the removed Helena superintendent. What does that have to do with the Pulaski County case? Well, if he thinks Helena was unfairly treated, does it make it harder for him to view Pulaski in such a harsh light as he has done?