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Supreme Court remands Arizona English language education funding case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Thursday ruled [opinion, PDF] 5-4 in Horne v. Flores [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] and Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives v. Flores that the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit erred in declining to modify an injunction requiring Arizona to provide sufficient funding for its English Language Learners (ELL) program in order to comply with the Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1974 (EEOA) [text]. The Supreme Court found that both the district and circuit courts focused too narrowly on the adequacy of funding given to the ELL program, and therefore did not conduct a proper Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(5) [text] analysis under Rufo v. Inmates of Suffolk County Jail [opinion text]. Calling the overall goal of overcoming language barriers a "vitally important one," Justice Samuel Alito wrote:

The EEOA's "appropriate action" requirement grants States broad latitude to design, fund, and implement ELL programs that suit local needs and account for local conditions. A proper Rule 60(b)(5) inquiry should recognize this and should ask whether, as a result of structural and managerial improvements, Nogales is now providing equal educational opportunities to ELL students.

Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter, and Ruth Bader-Ginsburg.

The Ninth Circuit had affirmed [opinion, PDF] a district court ruling that denied the state's request for relief from a 2005 contempt order under FRCP 60. The speaker of the State House of Representatives and the president of the State Senate argued that increases in funding and programmatic reforms adopted by the legislature, as well as the specific ELL requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 [official website], meant that Arizona was now in compliance with the EEOA. In Rufo, the Court found that a judgment has been "satisfied and the violation cured" within the meaning of Rule 60 if a party can show that the judgment would not have been issued if changes in fact or law had been in place at the time of the original order.

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