The Wyoming Supreme Court should overturn a law that stripped away most of the power from embattled Wyoming schools superintendent Cindy Hill, her attorney argued in new court papers.
The law that transferred almost all of the superintendent’s duties to an appointed education director violates the Wyoming Constitution, Hill attorney Angela Dougherty wrote in a brief filed Friday. The constitution grants general authority over the state’s schools to the superintendent of public instruction, not the governor or the Legislature, she argued.
Hill maintains the Legislature encroached on the powers of the
executive branch of government when it removed her as head of the Wyoming Department of Education. Such a sweeping move, Hill claims, requires a change to the state’s constitution.
“Had the delegates to the 1889 constitutional convention wanted to give those powers to someone else, they would have done so,” her attorney wrote. “Instead, the framers trusted the voters with selecting the superintendent, and in doing so, barred the Legislature, by itself, from modifying the constitutionally prescribed balance of powers.”
Hill has been joined in her lawsuit by two Platte County residents who voted for her in 2010. Their suit claims the law nullified their votes by dramatically altering the superintendent’s duties in the middle of her term in office.
Lawmakers passed the so-called “Hill Bill” in January. Hill filed suit against Gov. Matt Mead on the same day he signed it into law.
The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, which is representing Mead, has until July 5 to respond. In earlier court documents, Mead’s attorneys have maintained lawmakers acted within the scope of their powers when they passed the bill. The bill’s defenders say the state Constitution allows legislators to transfer some of the superintendent’s powers to an education director appointed by the governor.
The law left Hill with only a handful of duties. She is responsible for developing toxic waste disposal guidelines, addressing head injuries, preparing an annual report on public schools and hosting professional development workshops for teachers. She went from overseeing a staff of 150 to seven.
She contends the framers of the Wyoming Constitution intended for the superintendent to have broad influence over the state’s education system. Lawmakers are responsible for funding schools and can define the general duties of the superintendent. They cannot, though, transfer supervision of the system to the governor, the brief said.
“The Legislature chose, by enacting [the law], to strip nearly all power and duty from the superintendent — a de facto impeachment, but did not afford her the due process required by the Constitution for removal from office,” her attorney wrote.
A lower court judge has already rejected Hill’s request to halt the law until the matter can be fully decided. He did agree to send the case directly to the Wyoming Supreme Court.