by David Safier
In a long-delayed decision, Judge A. Wallace Tashima ruled against a suit that would have declared ARS §15-112 — the law used to dismantle TUSD's Mexican American Studies — unconstitutional. You can read the entire decision here. It's very long and far beyond this layman's ability to understand completely. This passage from the second paragraph of the ruling sums up the Judge's decision:
The Court’s rulings stem in large part from the considerable deference that federal courts owe to the State’s authority to regulate public school education. The Court recognizes that, in certain instances, Defendants’ actions may be seen as evincing a misunderstanding of the purpose and value of ethnic studies courses. Equally problematic is evidence suggesting an insensitivity to the challenges faced by minority communities in the United States. Nevertheless, these concerns do not meet the high threshold needed to establish a constitutional violation, with one exception. Instead, they are issues that must be left to the State of Arizona and its citizens to address through the democratic process.
My translation: Parts of the law are problematic, but all of it, with one exception, is constitutional, and the state trumps the federal government when it comes to public education.
The ruling goes through the law piece by piece and describes why it mainly does not violate the constitution. Tashima mentions one exception, the part that says classes may not be "designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.” However, he says that one part can be cut from the bill, and the rest passes constitutional muster.
Richard Martinez, the lawyer who brought the suit, wrote this to me in an email:
The decision is not the one we hoped for and reflects just how difficult it is to find a law unconstitutional.
This case is not over, and like every struggle for civil rights, this effort will be ongoing and difficult but representative of the determined effort to free Mexican American Studies from the shackles of an unjust law that muzzles every educator from teaching the history and literature of Latinos who have been and remain a vital part of our nation’s past and its future.
Here's something that worries me. If TUSD decides to reinstate a program similar to MAS as is required by the recent federal desegregation order, Huppenthal and his cronies can, and probably will, bring the hammer down on TUSD once again, saying the courses are in violation of the law and demanding they be dismantled. Then it will be Huppenthal vs. a federal deseg order. This thing ain't over. Not by a long shot.