IJ’s Supreme Victory for School Choice in Alabama

April 1, 2015

By Bert Gall

IJ has chalked up yet another major legal victory for school choice! On March 2, the Alabama Supreme Court—in an 8-1 decision—ruled in favor of families when it rejected the lawsuit that the Alabama and National Education Associations (AEA and NEA) had filed against the Alabama Accountability Act.

The act, Alabama’s first school choice program, empowers the parents of children assigned to “failing” public schools to transfer their children to better-performing public or private schools.

Shortly after the act was signed into law in 2013, the AEA and NEA filed a lawsuit alleging that it violated the Alabama Constitution. Desperate to shut down school choice before it took root in Alabama, the unions employed a kitchen-sink strategy: They challenged everything from how the act was passed to whether it violated the Alabama Constitution’s Blaine Amendments, which prohibit state support of private religious schools.

IJ quickly intervened in the lawsuit on behalf of parents who wanted to use the act to get their children out of their failing public schools. Although the trial court in Montgomery ruled in favor of the teachers’ unions, it granted our and the state’s motion to allow the act to remain in place while we appealed directly to the Alabama Supreme Court.

On the morning of the argument on December 3, I walked up the stairs to the Court’s entrance and was greeted by almost 200 children—many of whom were already benefitting from school choice, and others who hoped to if it survived—who were there to watch the courtroom proceedings. Those kids, along with the children of our clients, were a powerful reminder of the stakes of the case. If we won, then thousands of children would finally have a shot at getting a quality education. If we lost, then the educational futures of those children assigned to poorly performing public schools would remain bleak.

Inside the courtroom, I articulated those stakes to the justices, and then (alongside the attorney for the state) explained why the act is constitutional. The argument went very well for our side, so the other IJ lawyers working on the case—Dick Komer, Arif Panju and Greg Reed—and I were hopeful that we had won. Just three months later, those hopes were realized. In a decision that relied heavily on the reasoning in our legal briefs, the court resoundingly rejected all 10 of the AEA and NEA’s claims. The educational opportunities for Alabama’s children have been preserved, and it is now beyond any doubt that school choice is constitutional in Alabama.

Furthermore, we now have another strong legal precedent in support of school choice that we can build upon in other cases. Indeed, the day after the decision was released, we bolstered our arguments in our Colorado and North Carolina school choice cases by citing the Alabama decision to those states’ supreme courts, both of which we expect to issue decisions soon. We also sent a copy of the decision to the Georgia trial court that is considering our motion to dismiss a challenge to Georgia’s tax credit program.

If these courts follow Alabama’s lead, then more victories for school choice are on the way!

Bert Gall is an IJ senior attorney.

Subscribe to get Liberty & Law magazine direct to your mailbox!

Sign up to receive IJ's bimonthly magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking news updates about the Institute for Justice's fight to protect the rights of all Americans.