A.H. v. French, No. 21-87 (2d Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Petitioners filed suit seeking injunctive relief, alleging that the denials of their requests for tuition funding violated their rights to the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. Under Vermont's Town Tuition Program (TTP), sending districts pay tuition to independent schools on behalf of high-school-aged students residing in the districts. The district court found that the school districts—endeavoring to comply with a state constitutional provision—denied petitioners' funding requests solely because of the religious status of petitioners' chosen school. Following Supreme Court precedent, the district court ruled that the exclusion of petitioners from the TTP violated the First Amendment, and the district court granted a limited preliminary injunction in petitioners' favor. Because respondents wanted to develop new criteria for TTP eligibility that would satisfy the state constitution, the district court enjoined the school districts from continuing to exclude petitioners from the TTP based solely on the religious status of petitioners' chosen school. However, the district court declined to mandate that the districts allow petitioners to participate in the TTP until the case was resolved. Petitioners appealed and moved for an emergency injunction pending appeal that would prohibit the school districts from continuing to deny their TTP funding requests.
The Second Circuit construed petitioners' motion as a petition for a writ of mandamus directing the district court to amend its preliminary injunction. In February 2021, the court granted the petition for writ of mandamus because petitioners clearly had a right to the relief they requested and mandamus was justified to enable them to obtain that relief. In this opinion, the court explained the reasons for its order granting the writ, concluding that petitioners have no other adequate means to attain the relief they desire; the district court was wrong to allow the school districts to continue to withhold TTP funds from petitioners while the districts developed new restrictions and safeguards; and the writ is appropriate where petitioners have been deprived of a public benefit as a result of the state's and the school districts' decades-long policy of unconstitutional religious discrimination.