Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Zuni Public School Dist. No 89

The Court ruled against the school district here 5-4 -- and against tribal interests -- and over a incredibly wild dissent from Justice Scalia. His opinion perhaps is a classic reminder why he spends some much time dissenting instead of persuading.

Paraphrasing the issue (apparently there's a lot of math involved and I don't like math): the school district wanted more federal education money; the federal formula adopted by the Secretary of Education appeared to differ from the relevant Act of Congress; the Secretary's formula prejudiced the school district; the school district wanted the formula struck down.

The Court found ambiguity in the statute (it seems because it was just plain complicated) and applied Chevron, sort of. Actually, as Justice Kennedy's short concurrence stated, the Court first applied the legislative history supporting its conclusion and then looked to the plain meaning, which is the backwards way of applying Chevron.

Justice Scalia wasn't buying it and found the statute unambiguous, rejecting what he called the "cadre of number-crunching amici." The Secretary's formula, Scalia argued, simply conflicted with the statute and was therefore invalid.

What I want to know is -- where was Justice Scalia in Chickasaw Nation v. United States in 2001 ("Indeed, in ordinary life, we would understand an analogous instruction -- say, 'Test drive some cars, including Plymouth, Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, and Kitchenaid' -- not as creating ambiguity, but as reflecting a mistake.")? I guess it's not really the same thing.


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