On April 12, lawyers for a coalition of nine states asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a federal appeals court ruling in favor of a class-action lawsuit against an investment firm that profited off federal public education funds. The judge denied the request, but the lead plaintiff, California teacher Dana Gunders, is planning to take her case to the Supreme Court.
Earlier this month, another whistle-blower lawsuit reached the Supreme Court, this one against the Jeff Bezos-backed, West Virginia-based vaccine manufacturer, Dynavax. “The case raises issues of great public importance and will be decided on the merits by the Court,” David M. Thompson, the company’s outside counsel, wrote in a May 20 letter to the justices.
These cases raise some important questions. But my team at Johns Hopkins Kennedy School wondered if there was another important issue that might be worth considering: The National Health and Voting Rights Center also recently filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Orange County, Florida, voter purge case. The firm behind the center—which aims to educate citizens about their voting rights and fight discrimination—also represents corporate giants Chevron and Boeing. Is voting fair when voting rights defenders—like federal student loan applicants—don’t have equal protection to invest in companies that also offer private education loans to schools’ students?
While it is critical that everyone has the right to vote, it is also important that everyone has the right to vote equally—especially if the right to vote is cordoned off from the rest of one’s life rights. This group has long served as the bulwark against potential discrimination. And as this court case shows, these groups are continually having to defend and protect voter access for their constituents.
In 2016, for example, they advocated against a presidential executive order that would have circumvented Congress and given public school funds to private and parochial schools, even though these private schools were receiving their own state and federal funding.
Throughout its history, the country has had to preserve and protect voting rights. Because voting rights advocates stand up for the rights of all voters, they are often perceived as the protectors of certain people. But should these same rights defenders also be granted to people that stand to benefit from those same votes? Can these citizens—individuals that claim the rights of the center, standing up for the right to vote—also benefit from the ability to vote for companies that also provide federal student loans and private education subsidies? And what about those with low or fixed incomes who have it tough and depend on private education to help them achieve their goals?
Based on this profile of which interests you own shares in, what interests do you think are more equal: The rights of the center to invest in companies that offer private education loan subsidies, or those rights of the voting public to be represented on a company’s board of directors to vote for policies that will improve the lives of the voters?