Thursday brought even more good news for Arkansas students and parents: In a landslide 6-1 ruling, the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmatively ruled that the LEARNS Act (Arkansas’s transformational education reform package) was properly passed by the legislature.
Opponents of education reform had tried to have the law’s emergency clause thrown out and in so doing, attempted to derail implementation of the act.
While the Court’s most recent ruling may be of little surprise to those of us who have been paying attention—and may have little legal implication on the LEARNS Act at this point—it is a significant win for supporters of education freedom. The Court’s ruling that the law was properly passed is an affirmation for defenders of separation of powers, and a massive blow to the radical, loud Left that is committed to promoting chaos and protecting the status quo. The decision will also neutralize potential future challenges to properly passed state laws that include emergency clauses.
This summer, opponents of the LEARNS Act on the Left filed a frivolous (read: utterly silly) lawsuit seeking not to repeal the law but to delay its implementation. According to these activists, the emergency clause that put the law into effect immediately was unconstitutional because, allegedly, it was not voted on “separately” as the Arkansas Constitution prescribes. The Left clung to this theory despite the fact that the Arkansas legislature has adopted emergency clauses this way for decades, as verified by even former Democrat Arkansas Speakers of the House.
(The theory also advanced in spite of the fact that any legislator can request a “separate” voice vote on an emergency clause and a bill, which was also done as recently as this last legislative session.)
These activists achieved their ultimate goal of throwing the law’s implementation into chaos, as they found a local leftist judge to impose a temporary restraining order on the bill, but this was ultimately lifted by the Arkansas Supreme Court in late June.
Now, after months of relative uncertainty, the issue is officially settled. And that’s great news for Arkansas families and bad news for the Left.
Thursday’s ruling is of little legal consequence for the LEARNS Act; the law was already implemented for the 2023-2034 school year, after the Supreme Court lifted the restraining order on the law in June.
The ruling should also come as no surprise to those who have been paying attention: In that same ruling, when the Court overturned the restraining order, they clearly broadcasted their disdain for the entire case, implying it was almost inappropriate for them to even rule on it under the separation of powers principle.
But that’s not to say the ruling was of no consequence whatsoever: Absent this ruling, the loud Leftist opponents of LEARNS would’ve continued squawking until the end of time that the act was “illegitimate” and “illegal.” And while, without a doubt, some of them will continue these vain attempts to discredit the law, their efforts will be in vain.
While most informed observers never doubted the law’s legitimacy even if they disagreed with its substance, they should now rest even more assured. LEARNS was indisputably passed appropriately, following proper, well-established legislative procedure. Case closed.
Arkansas families won big with the ruling. LEARNS promises to usher in a new era of education freedom and opportunity to the children of our state with more resources, more education options, and more accountability. The Arkansas Supreme Court’s ruling solidifies that this legislation—strongly supported by Arkansans and properly voted into law by duly elected representatives—isn’t going anywhere.
It’s also no secret that the LEARNS Act is one of Governor Sarah Sanders’ signature achievements. Thursday’s ruling was a significant victory for her and for all of the Arkansas legislators who stepped up and helped make LEARNS a reality.
In a fiery statement released from her office, Gov. Sanders said this is ultimately a victory for Arkansans and a blow to partisan extremists:
“Today’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of the LEARNS Act is a historic victory for Arkansas parents, teachers, and students, and a crushing defeat for the partisan extremists who tried to undermine our kids’ futures. My administration will continue to implement our transformational reforms which empower parents to choose the best school for their family, prohibit indoctrination, raise teacher pay from one of the lowest to one of the best in the nation, and invest in pre-k, early literacy, and career and technical education so every Arkansan can find a good job in their community.”
While the Left has enjoyed their last few months of cyber high-fiving over the lawsuit, hoping the Supreme Court would legislate from the bench, hand them an unearned victory, and embarrass the governor, they lost—definitively.
Absent Thursday’s ruling, there could have been long-term, lingering uncertainty about additional legislative acts that were passed with emergency clauses—because the vast majority of them were adopted using the exact same legislative process. Indeed, the lefty Twitter trolls were already virtually licking their lips about other state laws that were passed with emergency clauses that they could challenge.
Attorney General Tim Griffin, the state’s top lawyer who defended the LEARNS Act, raised concerns in his court arguments about this legal pandora’s box that could be opened if they ruled the wrong way. But thankfully, they did not.
And in a statement he released after the ruling was handed down, Griffin in fact noted that additional cases that challenge the validity of emergency clauses on similar grounds must be thrown out:
“This is a win for the people of Arkansas. The Arkansas Supreme Court confirmed that the General Assembly’s long-established procedure for adopting emergency clauses is valid and not subject to challenge. This ruling dismisses the lawsuit challenging LEARNS and confirms that all similar challenges fail as a matter of law and must be thrown out.”
For months, activists on the Left have been publicly hoping that the Court would rule against the LEARNS emergency clause’s passage (passed in the exact same way as every emergency clause in state history, best anyone can recall) and that this would open up additional laws with emergency clauses to challenge. Those hopes are now dashed.
While it was never truly in trouble, it is now more clear than ever that the LEARNS Act is going nowhere. The law is already helping thousands of Arkansas families, primarily students with disabilities, and its momentum will only grow as eligibility continues to expand over the next two school years.
Thursday was a bad day for opponents of commonsense education freedom, but it was a great day for Arkansas families and the next generation of Arkansans.