Komer saved the best for last

Dick Komer retired in May after a quarter-century at the Institute for Justice, helping countless families obtain greater choice to meet their educational needs. He is known throughout the educational choice movement as the consummate expert on crafting choice programs that can withstand lawsuits from choice opponents.

Bigots spent an enormous amount of effort in the late 19th century enshrining their hostility to Catholics and Jews into dozens of state constitutions in the form of Blaine Amendments. They quite nearly amended the federal Constitution as well.

It was never going to be easy to undo, but it has been done.

This Blaine Amendment movement supported by the likes of the Know-Nothing Party and the Ku Klux Klan reeked of illiberal intent. In the 1920s, the Know-Nothings and the Klan managed to make it illegal to send a child to a private school at all, making attendance at a public school with a Klan-approved curriculum mandatory so as to meld people into what the Klan considered “real Americans.”

While the U.S. Supreme Court struck this law down, Blaine Amendments remained in effect. It took multiple careers-worth of sustained effort to chip away at these relics, including that of the great Dick Komer, pictured above, who came out of retirement to argue the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case.

Komer has long been one of the treasurers of the education choice movement. To meet him is to love him. Not even his consistent and hilariously expressive swearing can distract you from his warm heart and keen intellect.

Blaine, the Know-Nothings and the Klan met their match once Komer and the many other dedicated attorneys at the Institute for Justice put their mind to it across a string of cases stretching over decades. Komer not only won the big case; he served as an inspiration and example to the choice movement for how to be a happy warrior.

Enjoy your retirement Dick, and thank you for your service.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of Next Steps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.