Hastings Law Journal


Over the past thirty years, many state supreme courts have inserted themselves into state educational policy-making by striking down their states' school funding schemes pursuant to charges that the state had not provided a constitutionally equitable or adequate distribution of educational resources to schoolchildren. To date, there has been much scholarly discussion of the legal bases for these state supreme court decisions and there exists a growing body of literature studying the effects of such judicial intervention. Despite the vast legal literature and growing judicial impact research regarding educational policy reform litigation, little is known about why state supreme courts choose to intervene in educational finance policy in the first instance. This article addresses the question of why some state supreme courts overturn their states' educational finance systems, while others uphold their finance systems. Specifically, the article provides a comparative political analysis of the DeRolph v. State litigation in Ohio and the Vincent v. Voight litigation in Wisconsin, which analysis is designed to identify the factors influencing judicial decision- making in educational policy reform litigation. The article argues and provides empirical support for the proposition that the judicial decisions in such cases are affected by the policy preferences of state supreme court justices and the institutional constraints on a judiciary venturing into the complex thicket of educational policy. Although relatively unconstrained by legal doctrine and therefore free to pursue their attitudinal preferences in educational policy reform cases, state supreme courts recognize their institutional limitations and craft their decisions in light of their sister branches' policy agendas. What emerges is a pragmatic jurisprudence in which the courts inject constitutional values into an ongoing dialogue with the legislature and executive branch.

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