Documents filed late Friday afternoon with the N.C. Supreme Court offered what could be the final written words in the latest stage of the Leandro education funding lawsuit.
The state’s highest court will hold oral arguments Aug. 31 to consider the latest Leandro dispute. By unanimous agreement of all parties, the standard hourlong arguments have been extended to 90 minutes.
Justices will decide whether a trial judge can order the state to spend an additional $785 million to fund items from a court-sanctioned Leandro plan. The Supreme Court also will decide whether a judge can bypass the General Assembly and order other state government officials to transfer the $785 million out of the state treasury.
Friday marked the deadline for final written briefs in the case. It’s officially titled Hoke County Board of Education v. State. Originally filed in 1994, the case has produced major state Supreme Court rulings in 1997 and 2004.
By 6 p.m. Friday only the plaintiffs’ brief was available publicly on the Supreme Court’s website. Lawyers from the N.C. Justice Department representing the state and State Board of Education also could submit new arguments. Private attorneys representing top legislative leaders are expected to weigh in. Acting state Controller Nels Roseland also has a role in the case. He’s one of three state officials targeted for the forced money transfer.
Leandro plaintiffs support the additional court-ordered spending and money transfer. They emphasize the state’s failure to meet Supreme Court mandates from previous Leandro rulings.
“The central question before this Court is: when ongoing violations of fundamental constitutional rights have been established, does the judiciary have any authority — after 17 years — to order a remedy, or must it bow to legislative inaction and recalcitrance?” asked attorney Melanie Black Dubis.
Dubis’ brief takes aim at Republican state legislative leaders, who are known as “intervenor defendants” in the case.
“Intervenor Defendants try to obfuscate this question by ignoring and misstating 17-years-worth of findings of fact that were never appealed, and by mischaracterizing the legal posture of the case,” Dubis wrote. “This is not a case about whether the legislative or executive branch has the ‘power of the purse.’ This case is about the role of the Court when the State is violating the fundamental constitutional rights of North Carolina’s children. After seventeen years, the time has come for this Court to tell the children if their constitutional right to the opportunity to receive a sound basic education in a public school actually means something, or if it is just a promise ‘made to the ear but intended to be broken in the heart.’”
The state Supreme Court faces no timetable for issuing a ruling after the late-August oral arguments.