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DOJ 'Abandons' Suit Against Louisiana School Voucher Program

8:39 AM, Nov 19, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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The Obama administration's Justice Department has dropped a lawsuit aiming to stop a school voucher program in the state of Louisiana. A ruling Friday by a United States district court judge revealed that the federal government has "abandoned" its pursuit of an injunction against the Louisiana Scholarship Program, a state-funded voucher program designed to give students in failing public schools the opportunity to attend better performing public or private schools.

Eric Holder official portrait

"We are pleased that the Obama Administration has given up its attempt to end the Louisiana Scholarship Program with this absurd lawsuit," said Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, in a statement. "It is great the Department of Justice has realized, at least for the time being, it has no authority to end equal opportunity of education for Louisiana children."

But the legal battle over school vouchers in Louisiana isn't over. The Justice Department is still requesting the court allow a federal review process of the program.

Earlier this year the Justice Department had sought the injunction against the program because, its petition argued, moving children out of certain school districts in Louisiana may have been in violation of a standing federal desegregation court order from 1975. According to that existing injunction, the state could not send public money to private schools in those school districts "in ways that further or support discrimination or segregation."

As the Jindal administration began to mount a legal defense to the federal suit, a group of parents of students, mostly minorities, who had benefitted from the voucher program sought to intervene in the case. Justice filed a motion to oppose the parent group's request to have standing.

On Friday, Judge Ivan Lemelle of the U.S. district court of the Eastern District of Louisiana ruled the parents could not intervene in the case because the feds are "no longer seeking injunctive relief at this time." Lemelle explained that in the intervening months since the Justice Department filed suit, it had made clear both in a supplemental filing and in its opposition to the parent group's motion to intervene that it was not seeking in its suit to end the voucher program or take away vouchers from students.

Lemelle continued: "The Court reads these two statements as the United States abandoning its previous request that the Court 'permanently enjoin the State from issuing any future voucher awards to students unless and until it obtains authorization from the federal court overseeing the applicable desegregation case.'"

Lemelle will hold an oral hearing on Friday, November 22, during which Justice will make its case for the federal review process of the voucher program. In his statement on Friday's ruling, Jindal criticized the federal government's efforts.

“The centerpiece of the Department of Justice's 'process' is a requirement that the state may not tell parents, for 45 days, that their child has been awarded a scholarship while the department decides whether to object to the scholarship award. The obvious purpose of this gag order would be to prevent parents from learning that the Department of Justice might try to take their child’s scholarship away if it decides that the child is the wrong race," said Jindal. “The updated Department of Justice request reeks of federal government intrusion that would put a tremendous burden on the state, along with parents and teachers who want to participate in school choice."

Elizabeth Harrington of the Washington Free Beacon recently reported on the students and parents in Louisiana who say they've benefitted from the voucher program:

Coretta Pittman goes well beyond the 40 hours of service required of parents whose children attend the Good Shepherd School in New Orleans. Last year she did 100.

She borrows her mother’s car to take her son Elias, a second grader, to Good Shepherd each morning rather than sending him to a public school across the street. She chooses to work part-time so she can volunteer.

Without a voucher, Pittman would not be able to send Elias to the private Catholic school.

“I love the school,” she said. “I wouldn’t switch him for anything.”

Pittman fears that without the program Elias’s future could be snuffed out, like her nephew. She gets emotional when talking about his death. “Me and my mother raised my nephew from the time he came home from the hospital,” Pittman said. “A year ago, he was killed. He was really smart. I think he could’ve done and been anything that he wanted to.”

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