Over DOJ Objections, Parents Allowed to Intervene in Louisiana School Choice Case

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Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned a federal district court ruling in a victory for school choice in Louisiana.

As we’ve written before, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been particularly hostile to Louisiana’s school choice program. So hostile, in fact, that last August DOJ trotted out a decades-old open desegregation case to try to block the program.

After public pressure—including from school choice advocate Speaker John Boehner (R–OH)—DOJ “backed down,” arguing that it wasn’t intending to block the program but merely to gather data to ensure that the program comports with the open desegregation case and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. And, on that basis, DOJ opposed intervention by a number of parents whose children receive school vouchers under the program. DOJ argued that the case was just between DOJ and Louisiana—no parents or students would be affected by the outcome of the case, and a federal district court judge denied parental intervention on that basis.

In last week’s decision by the Fifth Circuit overturning this decision, the court noted: “It is not credible for the United States to claim that the relief it is now seeking differs from the relief the parents opposed in the August motion.” In other words, the court said that, despite DOJ’s attempts at rhetorical sleight of hand, DOJ is continuing to seek the same relief it has always sought: to stop Louisiana from continuing its voucher program “unless and until” a federal court orders the state to turn over reams of data and gives its “authorization.”

In short, as the Fifth Circuit recognized, DOJ has never “backed down,” and the views of the parents of children who have received vouchers, and who would be most affected, ought to be heard and considered.

In pointing out why parents of students in the school choice program ought to be allowed to intervene in the case, the court further stated:

The purported aim of the United States is to enforce the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. If any group can be described as within the zone of interest protected by that clause, surely it is these mostly minority parents who believe that the best way to ensure equal protection of the laws is to give them the opportunity—along with other parents who live in poverty and whose children are in failing schools—to send their children to better schools.

DOJ’s attack on Louisiana’s school choice program will likely continue, but at least now parents will have their voices heard in federal court.

Andrew Kloster
Heritage Foundation

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