RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – In a decision released late Friday, the new Republican majority on the North Carolina Supreme Court moved to undo another decision made by the court last year, ruling that the state does not have to release millions of dollars in court-ordered funds for education in North Carolina.

This is the case you probably know simply as “Leandro,” which is shorthand for the suit filed in 1994 by a group of five minority-majority counties – Hoke, Halifax, Robeson, Vance and Cumberland – under Hoke County Board of Education, et al, v. State of North Carolina et al, which eventually found that not all students were equally funded.

Leandro – so named for a middle school student who was named as a plaintiff – has had more than one version and many hearings, rulings and appeals. In November the Supreme Court backed a ruling from November 2021 by Wake County Superior Court Judge David Lee that ordered the General Assembly to transfer $1.75 billion into the state budget to cover the amount owed for the next three years, with $1.5 billion going to the state Department of Public Instruction for the 115 public school districts, $189.9 million to the Department of Health and Human Services and $41.3 million to the UNC system.

That ruling, made along the lines of the court’s then-Democratic majority, 4-3, had overturned a decision by the Court of Appeals that had overruled Lee’s decision. You follow?

Then Lee had died, and the amounts had since November been lowered to $785 million by newly appointed judges. Still another new judge, James Ammons, was supposed to take up the case soon.

NC Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls
NC Supreme Court Associate Justice Trey Allen

But all that was hit with a major “pause” button Friday, when a new Republican justice, Trey Allen, wrote for a 5-2 GOP majority that the case had not fully answered questions brought about funding from State Controller Nels Roseland.

“Specifically, the Controller argues that there are many issues presented in this case that were left unaddressed in the Court’s earlier opinion,” Allen wrote.

Associate Justice Anita Earls, writing in dissent, called the petition and ruling “an attempt to make an end run around the Rules of Appellate Procedure regarding rehearing and merely seeks rehearing on issues this Court already has decided.”

She labeled as “illogical” arguments presented by the controller that he could be subject to criminal and civil liabilities for carrying out the court’s order. She also argues that the issues raised in his argument had been fully addressed in the decision she called “Leandro IV.”

Lee, the judge who ordered the transfer of the money, was replaced last year, by order of Chief Justice Paul Newby, with Judge Michael L. Robinson, who in April ruled lawmakers did have to pay the full amount but overturned Lee’s directive and didn’t tell them how to pay the $785.1 million he said the state owed under the original judgment.

The General Assembly, which had passed a 2-year budget that would partially fund the Leandro directive, continued to argue – as it has under both Democratic and Republican control – that only lawmakers could spend the money and not the courts.

This followed an appeal filed last fall by then-state Comptroller Linda Combs when the state Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 margin, ruled that Lee had no right to order the state to pay the $1.7 billion. Roseland replaced Combs.

The Supreme Court’s new Republican majority – the GOP has not had control of the Supreme Court since the election of justices were required by the General Assembly to be partisan – also last month stepped into two other decisions made by its predecessors, agreeing to rehear on decisions from December about voter ID and redistricting.