Call it naïve, but some would claim that while politics is political, America’s legal system is supposed to be above or separate from the day-to-day world of politics.
But as we Americans we are learning, our legal system is, in fact, extremely political and appears to becoming more political by the day.
At the federal level, politics surrounded cases like the Bush-Gore election or Obamacare. Both are prime examples of how politics can influence or even trump legal proceedings.
The sad case of the politicization of the legal system is becoming even clearer here in Connecticut.
In the case of CCEJF v. Rell, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that the Connecticut Constitution requires that the state properly fund a public education system that provides every child with an adequate education and determined that Connecticut’s present education funding formula is unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court ordered that the CCEJF case be returned to the Superior Court so that the lower court could determine the meaning of adequacy and identify actions the state must take to properly fund its public schools.
Although Governor Malloy and Attorney General Jepson endorsed the CCEJF case as candidates and committed to resolving the CCEJF case and improving the school funding formula, the first thing Jepsen and Malloy did was file a motion asking the Court to remove the concept of early childhood education from the court’s definition of education.
But of course, we all know that early childhood education is one of the most vital elements in the effort to improve education achievement.
As if that wasn’t outrageous and insulting enough, more recently Jepsen and Malloy moved to have the entire CCEJF case dismissed by the courts and moved to have the CCEJF coalition removed as the case’s plaintiff.
This past week the Superior Court dismissed Jepson and Malloy’s attempt to end the case and ordered the full trail to begin on July 1, 2014.
Another example of the Malloy administration’s politics before policy approach was visible in how they handled the case of Lopez v. Vallas. In that case Jepsen and Malloy used public funds to come to the defense of Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, when Pryor decided that while the law required that Paul Vallas could only stay on as the head of Bridgeport’s school system if he completed a school leadership program at a Connecticut institution of higher education, Pryor would allow Vallas to stay if he only took a three-credit independent study class instead.
And now we have yet another example of playing politics with a case.
The situation developed yesterday in conjunction with the case of SEBAC V. Rell.
Back in 2001, in a fit of rage and political maneuvering, Governor John Rowland laid off 2,800 unionized state employees.
A three-judge panel unanimously ruled that Rowland and Marc Ryan, his secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, had violated the law because the layoffs were only targeted toward union members. Rowland’s action was so egregious that the court actually ruled that Rowland and Ryan should be held personally liable for the impact of their action.
As he court explained at the time, the “Defendants [Rowland and Ryan] have not shown why the state’s fiscal health required firing only union members, rather than implementing membership-neutral layoffs.”
The court went on to say that the firings “were ordered as a means of trying to compel the plaintiff unions to agree to the concessions demanded…As plaintiffs have shown that defendants fired employees based on their union membership without narrowly tailoring the terminations to a vital government interest, plaintiffs were entitled to summary judgment on their First Amendment targeting claims.”
In essence, the court ruled that Rowland’s decision to fire only union members was illegal because it was nothing more than an effort to silence and punish the union and its members,
Since the decision in the SEBAC v. Rowland was handed down when Malloy was governor, the Malloy administration had the choice of working to settle the case or appeal to the United States Supreme Court. The chance of the Supreme Court taking the case was extremely unlikely.
The appropriate solution was simple and straight-forward. Sit down and negotiate a settlement.
But the politics superseded the policy and Attorney General Jepsen, with Malloy’s support, announced that they were going to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Then yesterday, Jepsen, once again with Malloy’s approval, said he is withdrawing his petition asking the United States Supreme Court to review the case and would sit down with the unions to settle the case.
As reported by CT Newsjunkie, when asked why he was withdrawing the petition for review, Jepsen said “This is the time of maximum leverage…If the petition for review was denied three or four months from now, the state would be sitting across the negotiating table from an “emboldened adversary who’s holding most of the cards.”
An “emboldened adversary who’s holding most of the cards?”
Governor Rowland broke the law by firing 2,800 state employees. Rowland, not the state employees was the adversary.
Malloy and Jepsen could have sat down and negotiated a settlement at any time.
Instead they decided to play politics with the case, initially saying they’d appeal to the Supreme Court and now backing off that stance.
And now they say they want to settle to prevent the state employees and their unions from becoming an “emboldened advisory who’s holding most of the cards.”
Once again, elected officials seem committed to placing the value of the politics above doing the right thing for the state.
Jepsen and Malloy should never have allowed this case to drag on.
Like the CCJEF v. Rell public school funding law suit, Connecticut’s elected officials should make doing the right thing their top priority and leave the politics for another time.
Enough is enough. Instead of scapegoating Connecticut’s public schools students or state employees, Jepsen and Malloy should roll up their sleeves, stop playing politics and settle the CCJEF case and settle the Rowland case.
You can read more about the SEBAC v. Rowland case at: