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Justices reverse roles in Lobato decision

Last Tuesday’s Colorado Supreme Court 4-2 ruling in the Lobato v. State school funding case saw two court justices reversing the roles they played in an earlier Lobato ruling.

Justice Nancy Rice, an appointee of former Democratic Gov. Roy Romer, wrote the majority opinion declaring the state’s school finance system to be constitutional. But Rice was on the minority side of a 4-3 October 2009 decision that revived the Lobato lawsuit after it had been rejected by a district court and the Colorado court of appeals. She wrote a dissenting opinion at that time.

Chief Justice Michael Bender, another Romer appointee, wrote the majority opinion in 2009 and wrote a dissent to the latest ruling.

The justices who were on the court for both decisions were consistent in their votes.

Rice and justices Nathan Coats and Allison Eid were in the majority on the latest decision and were against reviving the suit in 2009. Justice Brian Boatwright, appointed in 2011 by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, provided the fourth vote for the May 28 ruling. Coats and Eid were appointed by Republican former Gov. Bill Owens.

In 2009 both Bender and Justice Gregory Hobbs were in the majority to revive Lobato but were on the losing side this week. (Like Rice, Hobbs was a Romer appointee.) The two other justices who voted with them in 2009, Mary Mullarky and Alex Martinez, later left the court.

One current justice, Monica Marquez, recused herself from the latest decision because she previously worked on the Lobato case as a member of the attorney general’s staff.

The governor chooses a new supreme court justice from a group of three nominees provided by a nominating commission. After an initial two-year term, justices stand for retention elections. Once retained, justices serve 10-year terms but must retire by age 72.

Read Rice’s May 28 opinion and Bender’s dissent here. See Bender’s 2009 opinion and Rice’s dissent here.

Better late than never

The State Board of Education, another seven-member body involved in Lobato, weighed in on the court’s ruling Friday afternoon, four days after the decision came out.

“The State Board is grateful that this case is over and that the funding of the school finance system is properly in the hands of the Colorado General Assembly and, ultimately, the people of the State of Colorado,” read a statement sent just before p.m.

The board was a defendant in the lawsuit, along with Gov. John Hickenlooper and education Commissioner Robert Hammond, who’s hired by the board.

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