A district court panel in Kansas declared Friday that key parts of a new state law for funding public schools violate the state constitution and ordered an immediate increase in aid.
State officials and an attorney for four school districts challenging the law said the decision from the three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court would force the state to provide between $46 million and $54 million in extra aid next week, distributing the money under an old formula that legislators junked.
The same panel ruled in December that the state must boost its annual spending by at least $548 million to fulfill its duty under the Kansas Constitution to provide a suitable education to every child. In its latest ruling, the panel of judges said school funding changes this year make the distribution of more than $4 billion a year less fair.
The new law scrapped a per-student formula for distributing aid to Kansas' 286 school districts. Gov. Sam Brownback and other conservative Republicans in the GOP-dominated Legislature disliked the old formula partly because it automatically left the state on the hook for additional spending if schools gained students, if more students had special needs or even if districts had major building projects.
The Supreme Court is meeting for the final time until the fall to decide three remaining cases and add some new ones for the term that starts in October.
The court decided its two blockbuster cases last week by declaring the right of same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states and upholding a critical part of the health care overhaul.
The three remaining cases that are expected to be decided Monday raise important questions about a controversial drug that was implicated in botched executions, state efforts to reduce partisan influence in congressional redistricting and costly Environmental Protection Agency limits on the emission of mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants.
The justices also could add important cases for next term on abortion, affirmative action and the power of unions that represent government workers.
Here are more details about the three undecided cases:
—Lethal injection: Death-row inmates in Oklahoma are objecting to the use of the sedative midazolam in lethal-injection executions after the drug was implicated in several botched executions. Their argument is that the drug does not reliably induce a coma-like sleep that would prevent them from experiencing the searing pain of the paralytic and heart-stopping drugs that follow sedation.
—Independent redistricting commissions: Roughly a dozen states have adopted independent commissions to reduce partisan politics in drawing congressional districts. The case from Arizona involves a challenge from Republican state lawmakers who complain that they can't be completely cut out of the process without violating the Constitution.
A Pennsylvania state court on Thursday struck down a law designed to make it easier for gun owners and organizations like the National Rifle Association to challenge local firearms ordinances in court.
The Commonwealth Court said the procedure the Republican-controlled Legislature used to enact the law in the final days of last year's session violated the state constitution. The ruling came after dozens of municipalities had already repealed their gun laws.
Under the law, gun owners no longer had to show they were harmed by a local ordinance to challenge it, and it let "membership organizations" like the NRA sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member. The law also allowed successful challengers to seek damages.
The NRA's lobbying arm had called the measure "the strongest firearms pre-emption statute in the country."
Five Democratic legislators and the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster sued to block the law, saying it was passed improperly. The GOP defendants included House Speaker Mike Turzai and then-Gov. Tom Corbett, who lost his bid for re-election last year.
Thursday's ruling sends "a very strong message to the General Assembly that the old way of doing business just isn't acceptable anymore," said Mark McDonald, press secretary to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. "The law requires and the public expects transparency, deliberation and public debate."
The Supreme Court handed a surprising victory to the Obama administration and civil rights groups on Thursday when it upheld a key tool used for more than four decades to fight housing discrimination.
The justices ruled 5-4 that federal housing laws prohibit seemingly neutral practices that harm minorities, even without proof of intentional discrimination.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, often a swing vote, joined the court's four liberal members in upholding the use of so-called "disparate impact" cases.
The ruling is a win for housing advocates who argued that the housing law allows challenges to race-neutral policies that have a negative impact on minority groups. The Justice Department has used disparate impact lawsuits to win more than $500 million in legal settlements from companies accused of bias against black and Hispanic customers.
In upholding the tactic, the Supreme Court preserved a legal strategy that has been used for more than 40 years to attack discrimination in zoning laws, occupancy rules, mortgage lending practices and insurance underwriting. Every federal appeals court to consider it has upheld the practice, though the Supreme Court had never previously taken it up.
Writing for the majority, Kennedy said that language in the housing law banning discrimination "because of race" includes disparate impact cases. He said such lawsuits allow plaintiffs "to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification" under traditional legal theories.
"In this way disparate-impact liability may prevent segregated housing patterns that might otherwise result from covert and illicit stereotyping," Kennedy said.
Kennedy was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.