Florida Supreme Court dismisses a decade-old lawsuit claiming the state’s education system violated Amendment 6 of 1998

The Citizens for Strong Schools v. Board of Education lawsuit was filed on November 18, 2009, in the Leon County Circuit Court alleging the state failed to “make adequate provision for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high-quality education” as mandated by Amendment 6 of 1998.

On January 4, 2019, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit, ruling that the judicial branch lacks the competence or authority to make funding and policy decisions.

Amendment 6 was on the ballot on November 3, 1998, when it was approved by a vote of 71 percent to 29 percent. The measure was referred to the ballot by the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC), which meets every 20 years on the following schedule: 1977, 1997, 2017, 2037, 2057, and so on. Amendment 6modified Article IX of the Florida Constitution to declare it “a paramount duty of the state” to provide for the education of children. Amendment 6 was one of nine ballot measures placed on the 1998 Florida ballot by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady, Justice Alan Lawson and Associate Justice Edward LaRose said plaintiffs failed “to present any manageable standard by which to avoid judicial intrusion into the powers of the other branches of government.” Chief Justice Charles Canady said, “The judiciary is very good at making certain types of decisions — that is, judicial decisions— but it lacks the institutional competence — or the constitutional authority — to make the monumental funding and policy decisions that [the plaintiffs] seek to shift to the judicial branch.”

 

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Pariente wrote, “the majority of this Court fails to provide any judicial remedy for the students who are at the center of this lawsuit […] the citizens of this state intended for compliance — or noncompliance — with that provision to be adjudicated by the judiciary when properly brought to the court. Indeed, the task of construing the Constitution and determining whether the state is fulfilling its express obligations required by the Constitution — and the citizens of this state who approved the relevant constitutional language — is solely the judiciary’s task.”

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission convened in 2017 and referred eight constitutional amendments to the 2018 ballot. One was blocked from the ballot by a Florida Supreme Court ruling. The other seven were approved by voters.

Lawsuit timeline

Following is a timeline of the lawsuit from its 2009 filing to the 2019 state supreme court ruling:

  • January 4, 2019: Florida Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that the judicial branch lacks the competence or authority to make funding and policy decisions
  • November 8, 2018: Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after asked by attorneys for Citizens for Strong Schools
  • March 2016: Trial held at the Leon County circuit court, where presiding judge George S. Reynolds, III dismissed the case, ruling that plaintiffs failed to prove that the state failed to meet their obligations mandated by Amendment 6 under Article IX
  • September 11, 2012: The Florida Supreme Court declined to accept jurisdiction and sent the case back to the Leon County circuit court
  • November 2011: The First District Court of Appeals panel of 15 judges voted 8 to 7 to deny the Writ of Prohibition and certify the suit as a “question of public importance,” which sent the case to the Florida Supreme Court
  • June 30, 2011: Hearing took place after the state appealed the denied Motion to Dismiss by filing an Extraordinary Writ of Prohibition, arguing that the courts have no authority to rule on the actions of the legislature
  • August 27, 2010: Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford denied the State of Florida’s Motion to Dismiss and ruled that the plaintiffs in the case had standing
  • November 18, 2009: Lawsuit filed in Leon County circuit court



About the author

Jackie Mitchell

Jackie Mitchell is a state ballot measures staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at jackie.mitchell@ballotpedia.org

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