Eduwonk Exclusive: AG Blumenthal Almost Slips Through As Spellings Slips-Up

Amazing, they’re a gang that can’t shoot straight either. For some reason the Bush Administration seems hell bent on undermining the one high-profile thing that is going well for them right now. Either unbeknownst to the Department of Education (sloppy) or with their knowledge (stupid), last week the Bush Administration Department of Justice weighed-in against the Connecticut NAACP’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit there. That’s right, though they somehow managed to keep it out of the press: The Bush Administration stiff-armed the NAACP when the NAACP was on their side! In other words, state makes grandstanding lawsuit against No Child Left Behind, NAACP moves to weigh-in on behalf of the Bush Administration, and the administration says no thanks!

The administration’s reasoning was procedural and tied to Department of Justice policies about who can and cannot intervene in various cases. And the brief (not yet available online as far as I know) does generally support the NAACP’s contentions on the merits. And, apparently after a week of wrangling between various lawyers from the civil rights community and the administration the Department of Education is now filing a formal stipulation that they support the merits of the NAACP’s position and they should be allowed to intervene.*

So why does this circus stunt matter in the first place? Politics and substance. AG Blumenthal found himself in the awkward position of having to decide whether to oppose the NAACP’s motion to intervene in the case or face off with them in court. Neither outcome was very appetizing and illustrated how far beyond the end of his rope the AG found himself. Blumenthal was punting and hoping for a way out of the box. The Bushie bungling almost gave him one…

On substance the questions at stake in the case are important and boil down to whether the feds can draw a line in education with laws like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and more broadly whether federal laws like this mean anything or if states can simply disregard parts they don’t like. Regardless of what one thinks of the Bush Administration overall or even of NCLB, supporters of liberal and progressive causes should want to see them succeed here legally. That’s in no small part (along with educational concerns) why the NAACP intervened. Yet it turns out that neither God nor the NAACP can help those who don’t help themselves…

*I’m sympathetic to the administration on one aspect of this. I recall during the Clinton Administration a court case involving a disparate impact case being brought against a state teacher test. The test was an 8th-grade level test so the administration obviously did not want to be seen to be in any way saying that teachers shouldn’t have to demonstrate at least that level of education to teach. But the case also raised procedural issues about who has standing to bring lawsuits under various civil rights laws. As I recall it was a bit tricky to produce a brief that protected the civil rights equities at stake while steering clear of giving any cover to the plaintiffs on the substantive issues. Nonetheless, a team was convened and worked it out. This isn’t rocket science.

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