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VOL. 128 | NO. 161 | Monday, August 19, 2013

Mays Ponders What Remains in Suburban Schools Federal Suit

By Bill Dries

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All sides in the still-pending federal lawsuit over the reformation of public education in Shelby County have through Friday, Aug. 23, to take stock of what is left to decide in the lawsuit.

Voters in the six suburbs recently approved the formation of municipal schools districts. Now, Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays wants to hear from all sides in the pending suit.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays wants to hear from all sides in the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee specifically on the claims by the Shelby County Commission that municipal school districts in the suburbs violate parts of the Tennessee and U.S. Constitutions.

Mays ruled in November that a state law passed earlier that year setting the ground rules for forming the suburban school districts was void because it applied specifically to Shelby County in violation of the Tennessee Constitution.

The ruling voided the results of referendums and school board elections in each of the six suburban towns and cities in Shelby County that year.

But in 2013, the legislature passed another law that lifted the statewide ban on establishing such school districts.

Voters in the six towns and cities in July again approved ballot questions on forming school districts. And school board elections for each district are scheduled for Nov. 7.

“The parties are invited to address whether the passage of chapter 256 moots the remaining claims in the third party complaint,” Mays wrote in the order.

He also quoted similar cases in which courts ruled claims became moot because of laws passed after old laws that had been voided by court decisions as well as Moore’s Federal Practice, a handbook on federal procedure.

“When a statute, regulation or any other type of legislation is passed while litigation is pending,” reads a section from the handbook quoted by Mays, “and the new legislation corrects or cures the condition complained of, the underlying claim may be rendered moot.”

Mays wants the attorneys to give their positions on whether the 2013 state law effectively ends the need for him to rule on the alleged violations of the Tennessee Constitution.

Mays did not rule on another part of state law that says once a special school district – as Memphis City Schools was – transfers to a county school system, that merger lifts the state’s ban on creation of municipal school districts within that county.

Mays, in the Wednesday, Aug. 14, order, also wants all sides to weigh in on the claim by the County Commission that the establishment of the suburban school districts violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Attorneys for the commission argued in their 2012 counterclaim that the suburban school districts would racially resegregate public education in Shelby County. Attorneys for the suburban leaders have vigorously denied that would be the case.

During status conferences on the overall case, Mays has said hearings leading to a decision on the U.S. constitutional claims would be similar in complexity to schools desegregation federal court cases of the 1970s. Those hearings usually involved numerous experts on demographic and education trends as well as considerable case law and precedents.

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