Susan Crawford and Lester Pines won a significant victory for public education in the Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 18, 2016. The Court struck down, on constitutional grounds, a 2011 law that gave the Governor broad control over the Superintendent’s rule-making in public education. The case, Coyne v. Walker, upholds the Superintendent’s constitutional role as an independent, nonpartisan officer charged with supervising the state’s public education system.
Crawford and Pines brought the lawsuit on behalf of a group of public school teachers and parents of public school children concerned with restoring the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s authority over public education, as constitutionally mandated since Wisconsin became a state in 1848. The decision is particularly important in light of the current administration’s ongoing efforts to privatize and under-fund public education.
The decision in Coyne also represents an important milestone for Lester Pines, who 20 years ago won Thompson v Craney, which set the precedent for Coyne. In her concurring opinion in Coyne, Justice Shirley Abrahamson noted that “Thompson has stood for 20 years as the seminal case interpreting Article X, Section 1 of the Wisconsin Constitution, which vests ‘the supervision of public instruction’ in the superintendent.”
The Court’s decision in Coyne is a victory for quality public education and the future of Wisconsin’s children. While Governor Walker’s legislative policies have been challenged in numerous actions, this case represents the first time the state’s highest court has declared a law advanced by the Walker administration to be unconstitutional. Several other such cases continue to be litigated in state and federal courts.