State Supreme Court finds Legislature in contempt, defers sanctions

Yesterday’s big news was the state Supreme Court order finding the state in contempt for failing to respond adequately to the court’s McCleary decision, calling for a rapid ramp-up in state funding of basic education. (Like everyone, we’ve written a lot about this, good background here.)

The judicial rebuke was expected. The question was how the court was going to handle sanctions. The alternatives proposed by the education activists were neither palatable nor plausible. The court commendably found a finesse.

In the interest of comity and continuing dialogue between the branches of government, the court accepts the state’s assurances that it will be compliant by the end of the 2015 session…If the contempt is not purged by adjournment of the 2015 Legislature, the court will reconvene and impose sanctions or other remedial measures.

An unhappy showdown has been averted, albeit one that the court itself forced when it retained jurisdiction of the case, umpiring a game it’s not clear the court fully understands. Calling on the Legislature to increase funding substantially in 2014, something no one believed possible in a supplemental budget year, raised the stakes this year. So did the court’s insistence on a funding plan for achieving full compliance by 2018, essentially putting the 2014 legislature in the untenable position of binding the actions of future lawmakers.

Much has been made of the unprecedented contempt finding. And it is significant. But I doubt it’s a game-changer. Before yesterday’s order, the 2015 legislative session was going to focus primarily on McCleary funding. That hasn’t changed.

Plenty of coverage of the decision:

And some think tank responses:

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