The Arkansas Supreme Court voted 4-3 to re-open the Lake View case, re-claiming jurisdiction over state school funding. Justice Robert Brown wrote the majority opinion, with Justices Tom Glaze, Donald Corbin and Betty Dickey concurring. Chief Justice Jim Hannah and Justices Jim Gunter and Carol Dalby dissented.
The court re-appointed Bradley Jesson, former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, and David Newbern, a former state Supreme Court justice, as special masters to review the facts relevant to the court's directive on public school funding. Their report is due back to the Court by September 1.
The court ruling was the result of a request brought by 48 school districts, who contended that the legislature in this year's session did not comply with the Supreme Court's original Lake View dictates by adequately funding schools.
Each justice wrote his or her own opinion, in addition to concurring with, or dissenting from, the majority opinion. For instance, Justice Glaze focused on the question of the court's power to retake control of the issue after giving the legislature a mandate to act:
How cynical would it be for the court to don such a sweeping mantle, and then cast it aside at this juncture. If it were "not this court's role" to interject itself into this particular fray, then we should never have done so in the first place. We accepted the role when we recalled our mandate in February of 2004, and for the dissenting justices to call upon us to reject it now, for fear of being viewed as an inappropriate "watchdog" is the height of hypocrisy.
Hannah's dissent repeatedly states that the court has no jurisdiction to re-open the case. He writes, "There is no appellate jurisdiction in this case because there is no order from a lower court to review in this case, which is what appellate courts do." He also says that the ruling violates the separation-of-powers doctrine, because in Arkansas, "the responsibility for the creation, organization and regulation of the public school system is within the exclusive province of the legislature." Therefore, the court's action is a "usurpation of the legislative function" that "make[s] this court a superlegislature."
The other two dissents also focus on questions of jurisdiction and separation of powers.
Corbin takes on those criticisms in his opinion: "It would certainly be easier for this court to rule that we have no jurisdiction and that any new challenge must again be filed in the circuit court, but to do so would send a signal that our resolve to ensure a constitutional educational system was less than strong."
The majority was effectively made by Justice Dickey, who was appointed by Gov. Mike Huckabee to fill a vacancy on the court. She could have been expected to be against re-opening Lake View, because that is where Huckabee stands. However, Dickey said in her opinion that time was of the essence in achieving adequate public school funding:
. . . twenty-two years is time enough to achieve compliance with the Constitution. We cannot wait for other cases to wend their way through the system, while hoping that successive legislative sessions don't "go wobbly" in their resolve to put the educational needs of the children first.
The response from Attorney General Mike Beebe:
I recognize this was a difficult decision for the Court, but the State is disappointed by the potential precedent the justices have set by re-opening a case they previously closed. We knew that regardless of the ruling, we would be presenting the facts in some venue, either at the Supreme Court or a trial court, so we will be ready to give these Masters any and all information they request.
I am confident that we can defend the actions of the Legislature and the Governor. Arkansas taxpayers have dedicated more than $700 million in new revenue toward improving education, and those reforms will be effective if given time to produce results.
Check the Arkansas Blog
throughout the day for updates and additional reporting as we review the decision more thoroughly.