Horne v. Flores

PETITIONER: Thomas C. Horne, Superintendent, Arizona Public Instruction
RESPONDENT: Miriam Flores et al.
LOCATION: Nogales Unified School District

DOCKET NO.: 08-289
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 557 US (2009)
GRANTED: Jan 09, 2009
ARGUED: Apr 20, 2009
DECIDED: Jun 25, 2009

Kenneth W. Starr - argued the cause for the petitioners
Nicole A. Saharsky - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the respondents
Sri Srinivasan - argued the cause for the respondents

Facts of the case

The Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction and members of the Arizona state legislature moved for relief from judgments of the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. In January 2000, the court had cited the state for civil contempt for failing to adequately fund English Language Learner programs, in violation of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act and subsequently rejected proposed legislation as inadequate to resolve the programs' deficiencies. The superintendent and representatives argued that increases in state funding, changes in the management of the school district involved, and passage of the No Child Left Behind Act sufficiently altered the foundations of the district court's original ruling and therefore relief was warranted. The federal district court of Arizona denied the motion.

On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. It reasoned that since Arizona never appealed or complied with the district court's original order that it was fair to require compliance.


Did the lower courts err in their analysis under Rule 60(b)(5) regarding Arizona's contention that changes in education law, including increased state funding, changes in the management of the school district involved, and passage of the No Child Left Behind Act had so altered the foundations of prior court rulings that relief from such judgments was warranted?

Media for Horne v. Flores

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 20, 2009 in Horne v. Flores

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 25, 2009 in Horne v. Flores

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Alito has the opinion of the Court this morning in case 08-289, Horne versus Flores and the consolidated case.

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

These consolidated cases come to us on writ of certiorari from the Ninth Circuit.

They concerned the provision of English language instruction in the Arizona Public Schools and they involve two provisions of federal law.

The first of these is the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 the EEOA.

This law contains a provision that was enacted to make sure that the States provide adequate English language instruction to the students whose native language is not English.

The statute is cast in very broad language.

All that it says is that a State must take "appropriate action" to achieve this goal to teach English to non-English speaking students.

The law otherwise leaves it up to the discretion of the States to decide how best to provide English language instruction.

The second provision of federal law that's involved in this case is Rule 60(b)(5) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

This rule allows a party to ask a federal court to grant relief from a judgement when continued enforcement of the judgment is no longer in public interest.

One of our leading cases on Rule 60(b)(5) is a case called Rufo versus Inmates of Suffolk County Jail decided in 1992 and in that case, we identified a category of cases which we termed, institutional reform litigation in which Rule 60(b)(5) may play in a specially important role.

Institutional reform cases are cases in which a federal court in order to remedy a violation of federal law, issues orders that generally continue in effect for a lengthy period of time and extend deeply into areas of traditional state control.

The orders issued in such cases often served a very important purpose but they may present special problems.

For one thing, the orders tie the hands of State and local officials preventing them from responding to changed circumstances and new policy insights.

In addition, there are cases in which State and local officials consent to or do not vigorously contest the entry of the orders because they want to use the federal court to achieve things that they cannot achieve by attempting to persuade the state legislature or the voters.

In cases of this sort, Rule 60(b)(5) provides a valuable escape hatch that allows a party to ask a federal court to consider whether an order has become obsolete or inappropriate due to changed circumstances.

The present cases began in 1992 and they originally concerned one school district in Arizona, the District of Nogales which is located along the U.S.-Mexico Boder.

Students and parents sued under the EEOA claiming that the State of Arizona was not taking appropriate action to provide English language instruction in Nogales.

At the time, the program in Nogales was bilingual education which means that students who were not fluent in English attended classes in which they were thought to speak and read English but most of their other classes were conducted in Spanish.

Now, this is some obviously required the hiring of teachers to teach a variety of subjects in Spanish as well as teachers to teach English and this meant that the district had to spend more money for each student who was not fluent in English than it spent on other students.

The District Court found that the Nogales program was not working primarily because the State was not providing enough special funding for the students in the bilingual program.

The Court first ordered the State to fix this problem, its funding problem in Nogales but it later ordered the State to provide additional funding in every other district in the State.

In doing this, the Court did not find that the EEOA was being violated in any of these other districts.

Instead, the Court took these major steps simply because the state attorney general asked the Court to do so.

The state attorney general said that this was required by the state constitution, but she did not take this argument about state law to the state legislature or to the state courts.

She went to the federal court.

The federal court ordered the legislature to make appropriations and when the legislature did not do so, the Court levied heavy fines.

Both the state attorney general and the Governor refused to defend the position taken by the legislature so legislative leaders intervened and moved for relief from the judgment under Rule 60(b)(5).

They argued that a lot had changed since the orders were originally entered.

For one thing they said, the State in response to new thinking about the best way to teach English to non-English speaking students have abandoned bilingual education and adopted a new system called, "structured English immersion" which means that the students attend regular classes conducted in English while receiving additional special English language instruction.