Washington Watch: Jindal, Maness tilt at windmills for political points

In Charles Dickens’ novel “Oliver Twist,” Mr. Bumble likens the law to an ass. And it’s true that judges and juries can behave as unpredictably as an ornery mule (or donkey) in rendering verdicts.

So the straight-face test may not apply in the legal system, which is probably just as well for a couple of Louisiana politicians seeking redress there or contemplating it.

The headline litigant is Gov. Bobby Jindal, who filed a lawsuit in federal court this past week accusing the Obama administration of violating the U.S. Constitution and federal laws via its promotion of Common Core, a regime of achievement standards for public schools developed by private advocates and education officials from several states.

The feds, Jindal says in the lawsuit, “have constructed a scheme that effectively forces States down a path toward a national curriculum,” and as a result, “Louisiana now finds itself trapped in a federal scheme to nationalize curriculum.”

The problem with that argument is that some states haven’t been forced down that path at all: Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia took a pass on Common Core altogether. None has been invaded by federal troops.

Beyond that, three states have pulled out of Common Core after initially signing up. Louisiana would have joined them this year had the Legislature not balked at attempts to jettison Common Core, which Jindal had enthusiastically endorsed when the state enlisted in 2010.

As the fiendish device employed by the Obama minions to bring states to heel, Jindal points to the $4 billion in grants available through the Race to the Top program. The lawsuit maintains the grants were contingent on a state’s embrace of Common Core.

That is, indeed, essentially the case — but the argument that the arrangement amounts to coercion is pretty much a nonstarter, according to Robert Garda, a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans. Similar challenges, like one that involved tying federal highway aid to increasing the drinking age, have been rejected by the courts, he said.

Louisiana has received $17.4 million from Race to the Top, which Jindal suggests was well-nigh irresistible. Yet he has had no qualms spurning hundreds of millions in federal money that would have flowed to the state had it expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Jindal also argues that the Race to the Top program, and administration support of Common Core generally, violates other federal laws and established principles of federal noninterference in K-12 education, as well as the 10th Amendment, which limits federal authority. But he’s on shaky ground there, says Garda — and Rambo agrees (OK, that’s Lynne Rambo, a constitutional law professor at Texas A&M University, and not the action-movie hero).

The other “case” involves Rob Maness, a Republican challenging the re-election of Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, an 18-year incumbent. When he showed up in Baton Rouge to file his declaration of candidacy, Maness presented a letter to the Louisiana secretary of state questioning Landrieu’s residence in the state.

First off, that’s not in the secretary of the state’s jurisdiction; any such complaint should be filed with the district attorney in Orleans Parish, where Landrieu claims residence — and Maness eventually got that right. But good luck with that, under Louisiana law.

Landrieu clearly resides, most of the time, in Washington, D.C., where she owns a home with her husband. But Louisiana allows someone with multiple residences to claim any one of them for purposes of voter registration and candidacy, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state said — and there’s no rule about how much time need be spent in one residence or another.

For Landrieu, that residence is the house at 4301 S. Prieur St. in New Orleans, which she co-owns with her siblings and in which her parents live year-round. Landrieu “absolutely” has stayed overnight at the house on visits to New Orleans, including in 2014, a spokesman for her campaign said.

But winning in court isn’t really the point for either Jindal or Maness, and they already have scored victories.

Jindal’s lawsuit generated national news coverage, no doubt endearing him to the many Republican voters who distrust and fear “Obamacore” and who will participate in the 2016 presidential primaries he has all but entered.

Maness’ ploy, too, has drawn wide media attention, amplifying his contention that Landrieu is out of touch with Louisiana.

At least Maness isn’t spending taxpayers’ money to tilt at windmills.

Greg Roberts is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is groberts@the advocate.com. Follow him on Twitter, @GregRobertsDC.