Judge rules parents have a say in Louisiana voucher case


By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

After Louisiana and the U.S. Justice Department both declared victory over a deal in the school voucher lawsuit, a new window has opened: Louisiana parents will now be allowed to have their day in court.

The Fifth Circuit court overturned a lower court’s decision not to let parents intervene in the lawsuit that could have cost some children their ability to attend the school of their parents’ choice.

“The Justice Department has attempted to block doors to the schoolhouse and courthouse,” said Clint Bolick, attorney for the Goldwater Institute, which has been working to intervene on the parents’ behalf, in a statement. “We are grateful that the Fifth Circuit has protected the rights of parents to act in the best interests of their children.”

In fall 2013, the DOJ filed a motion in a decades-old desegregation lawsuit, Brumfield v. Dodd, alleging Louisiana’s school voucher program increases racial segregation and was therefore violating court orders from the 1970s.

After legal backandforth, the U.S. District Court issued an order: the state must provide demographic information to the federal department, but the DOJ only has 10 days to review it and doesn’t have automatic veto power over individual scholarships.

“Today is a great day for school choice and access to an opportunity for a better education for all Louisianians,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement. “I am pleased that the court rejected President Obama’s Justice Department’s attempt to establish a review period where bureaucrats in Washington would be able to reject scholarship awards solely because the child is not the ‘right’ skin color.”

In the statement, Jindal said his administration will “remain vigilant” in case the DOJ attempts to use the information it receives to stymie the voucher program.

Attorneys at the Goldwater Institute believe the DOJ was wrong to make its move in the first place.

“We have argued throughout the course of this thing that the district court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the voucher program through the Brumfield case,” said Goldwater attorney Jon Riches. “Our position is that this doesn’t apply to the voucher program and never has. … The Department of Justice never should have attempted to use a case that has no applicability to the voucher program to stop or get additional information about the voucher program.”

The court order from the Brumfield case required that Louisiana not provide public assistance to racially segregated private schools, Riches said. Louisiana’s voucher program doesn’t allow private schools to participate unless they are Brumfield-certified, or non-discriminatory, according to the court orders.

Goldwater hasn’t yet decided on the next course of action, Riches said, but its attorneys intend to challenge the court’s jurisdiction in some way.

“It’s tragic that they’re going after this program which has been so successful for Louisiana students and their families,” he said.

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.