Education

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by several former members of the Kentucky Board of Education who claimed Gov. Andy Beshear violated their constitutional rights when he ousted them shortly after taking office in December. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove dismissed the case Wednesday, ruling that, “the Court finds the Governor’s actions are not contrary to federal law.”

Seven former board members, all appointed by former Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, claimed in their federal lawsuit that Beshear, a Democrat, violated their right to due process guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when he dissolved the Bevin-appointed board, and reconstituted it with his own appointees.

Beshear’s appointees have been serving in their positions throughout the court proceedings. In April, the Kentucky Senate confirmed all but one of Beshear’s picks — board chair David Karem.

In his ruling, Van Tatenhove said the Bevin-appointed members did not have a real constitutional claim.

“Plaintiffs have not asserted a viable claim under the Fourteenth Amendment because they have no property or liberty interest in an appointed state office,” the ruling reads. The judge had the same reasoning for denying the board members an emergency preliminary injunction against the board in February.

Van Tatenhove said political office does not constitute property, citing previous Supreme Court rulings. Furthermore he said board members were not removed without cause because they weren’t removed. Instead, Beshear “exercised his authority under [state law] to reorganize the state government in a manner that abolished their state offices.”

The Bevin appointees had also asked the court to rule on whether Beshear violated state law in his decision to abolish and reconstitute the board of education. Here, Van Tatenhove said Beshear acted within the law. He pointed to a recent decision by the Kentucky Supreme Court, ruling that the governor does have the power to reorganize state boards.

Gov. Andy Beshear signaled that the dispute is over.

“We believe that’s behind us,” he said during his daily briefing Wednesday.

But the former board members’ attorney, Steve Megerle said his clients are considering an appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court.

“I would say that this battle is not over,” Megerle said, reached for comment by WFPL News.

Megerle said he disagrees with the judge’s reasoning that the former board members’ did not have a “liberty or property interest” protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, noting that members receive compensation for attending meetings.

Meanwhile state Republican lawmakers have signaled an interest in taking away the power of the governor to reorganize the board of education. Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester) sponsored a bill that would have overhauled the board of education and the governor’s powers over it. But the bill never made it out of the Senate.

 

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.