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Defending education: A democratic role for courts in education policy

Alexandra Oprea, Australian National University

Tue 16 June 2020

11:00am - 12:00pm

Virtual seminar

Seminar recording is available on our YouTube channel.


What should be the role of courts when it comes to defending education rights in democratic communities? Drawing on decades of education litigation in the US concerning integration, school finance, and special education, this paper provides a democratic theory of court involvement in education policy. Courts have a key democratic role in defending minority rights, particularly under non-ideal circumstances where political power is unequally distributed. However, overreliance on courts in education policy can have important democratic costs. This paper discusses four such costs worth considering from a democratic perspective: (1) policy effectiveness costs, (2) standardization costs, (3) democratic education costs; and (4) special interest costs. In constructing a democratic theory of courts, the paper therefore argues for legal strategies that minimize the relevant costs while protecting minority rights. Such an approach favors bottom-up approaches that focus on specific harms to individuals and groups without aiming directly at controlling the legislative agenda.

About the speaker

Alexandra Oprea is a lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations at The Australian National University (ANU). Her research interests include education policy, collective decision-making, institutional design, and the history of political thought. Her work has appeared in a number of journals and edited volumes, including Review of Politics, Polity, Philosophical Perspectives, and Politics, Philosophy & Economics.

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