Don’t say “vouch”

In January of this year, the Florida Supreme Court–yes, that’s the one–held in a 5-2 ruling that tax payer funded vouchers for private school violate the state’s constitution. I wonder what their reasons were. But why bother, when you’re George Will you can attack their motivations and the people who approve:

>But Florida’s Supreme Court fulfilled the desires of the teachers unions, and disrupted the lives of the 733 children and their parents, by declaring, in a 5 to 2 ruling, that the voucher program is incompatible with the state constitution. Specifically, and incredibly, the court held that the OSP violates the stipulation, which voters put into the constitution in 1998, that the state shall provide a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education.”

Gee, George. You say “incredibly” but you don’t bother to point to any of the court’s actual reasons for its positions. Unlike twice or thrice weekly columnists, and once a week TV pundits, courts publish detailed *arguments* for their positions. These arguments offer *reasons*. Sometimes they please people, sometimes they don’t. But that fact does not make them credible or incredible. They are incredible if they distort facts, or if they reason badly, or have no basis in the law.

But why bother with such details when you have the power of the simple assertion:

>The court’s ruling was a crashing non sequitur: that the public duty to provide something (quality education) entails a prohibition against providing it in a particular way (utilizing successful private educational institutions). The court’s ruling was neither constitutional law nor out of character, and it illustrates why the composition of courts has become such a contentious political issue.

As readers of this site know, a non sequitur is a logical fallacy. Like the straw man in the previous sentence; Will has hopelessly distorted the argument of the Florida Supreme Court. The following snippet from USA Today makes a point George didn’t:

>But Thursday’s ruling ultimately could affect these and other voucher programs. The court found that taxpayer support for private schools in general is unconstitutional because Florida’s constitution requires “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools.” Private schools aren’t “uniform when compared with each other or the public system,” the justices wrote. They’re also exempt from public standards on teacher credentials and requirements to teach about a wide range of subjects, such as civics, U.S. and world history and minorities’ and women’s contributions to history.

So missing from Will’s argument is a discussion of what the court meant by “uniformity,” one of the central legal issues in their ruling. And its absence surely makes the Florida court’s ruling look silly and arbitrary. And so Will can make the following Cornynesque assertion: “The court’s ruling was neither constitutional law nor out of character, and it illustrates why the composition of courts has become such a contentious political issue.” Having avoided the content of their argument by straw man, will can turn to attacking the motivations of the judges (all five democrat appointees) and the people who were pleased by the ruling (the NEA). A crashing non sequitur indeed. Don’t misspell misspelling.

None of this means the court’s decision was right–which it probably was however–but it’s certainly not wrong on Will’s childish and confused libertarian whining. After all–what happens if the state gains financial access to private education? Then they will have the means and the power to enforce “uniformity”; that means the science class will have to teach something other than creationism.