Clint Bolick’s travel agent got him an upgrade to first class on the 1:50 p.m. Delta flight out of Tallahassee, Fla., on February 24, which was a good thing. Bolick needed a drink. The litigation director of the Institute for Justice, Bolick had had a bad morning, arguing a summary judgment motion in the courtroom of L. Ralph Smith, Jr., the state court judge presiding over Florida’s school voucher litigation. Bolick had tried to make the speech he’s made in so many school voucher cases over the last five years. “I represent the people who have the most at stake,” he had told Smith (popularly known as Bubba), as he gestured back to rows of parents wearing red, white, and blue “School Choice” buttons. Smith cut him off: “That’s irrelevant to the facial constitutionality.” Bolick, 42, has the manner of a teacher coaxing along a student, but the judge balked at all of Bolick’s attempts to persuade him that vouchers are good for Florida’s public schools. Bolick mustered a smile for the television cameras that surrounded him after the hearing, but by the time he got to the airport for the trip back to Washington, he was looking glum.
Until Robert Chanin boarded the plane. Chanin, a 65-year-old Brooklyn-born warrior with slicked-down gray hair, was the beneficiary of Judge Smith’s rough treatment of Bolick. Chanin has represented the National Education Association (NEA) for more than 30 years, and he is the lead lawyer for the coalition of groups that have opposed school vouchers in state after state. Chanin had kept his arguments for Smith simple but ferocious, slashing the air with his hands as he insisted that Florida’s constitution required public money to be spent on public schools. When Smith asked the antivoucher lawyers to draft a detailed proposed order for him to review, Chanin knew he’d won.
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