Professor Emeritus of Law University of California at Berkeley


John E. Coons was born in Duluth, Minnesota. In 1950 he graduated from the University of Minnesota which honored him with a doctorate in 1999. Coons earned his J.D. degree from Northwestern in 1953. He served first as an enlisted man, then in the Judge Advocate General Corps of the Army from 1953 -1955; stationed in the Pentagon, he represented the Army in numerous trials involving disputes between government contractors and various procurement agencies. In 1955 he joined the law faculty at Northwestern where he remained until moving to the University of California, Berkeley, in 1967. Married to Marylyn Bowles in 1956, the Coonses have five children and three grandchildren.

Coons' teaching was concentrated in basic areas such as Contracts and Property but always with a seminar in areas of thought on the periphery of law. These included sociology, anthropology, psychiatry, philosophy,and theology. Since 1968 he has taught the rights of families, the organization and finance of education, and the moral and economic theory underlying school choice.

A 1962 article by Coons on the application of the anti-trust laws to civil rights boycotts brought him in contact with leaders of the burgeoning civil rights move-
ment. In March of 1965 he participated in the Selma encounters which led to the Montgomery March and later was to counsel Dr. M. L. King and his S.C.L.C. colleagues during "Operation Breadbasket." During these same years Coons moder-
ated a weekly half-hour radio show which on several occasions hosted Milton Friedman, then at Chicago. Forty years later, the two still disagree on the ideal structure of school choice.

Coons' interest in schools began in 1962 when he was engaged by the U.S. Commis-
sion on Civil Rights to assess the compliance of Chicago schools with the racial neutrality principle. This inquiry led him to confront the occult structure of public school finance. In 1970, with his former students William Clune and Stephen Sugarman, he published Private Wealth and Public Education which provided the theory for the California Supreme Court in Serranno v Priest in 1971 and 1976. Coons argued these cases, emphasizing that one of the solutions to the oppressive system lay in subsidized school choice.

Coons' early conclusion was that neither an increase nor redistribution of dollars would fix education unless and until ordinary families and the poor were able to choose their own schools. Between the 1960s and 2001 Coons and Sugarman were to collaborate on five bookssupporting school choice plus dozens of articles, op-eds, and legislative models. In 1978 they tried to put the first school choice initiative on the state ballot and have consistently worked for and supported coherent efforts by others. The language of their models has found its way into the legal structure of the programs operating successfully in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and the Sate of Florida. In the 70s and early 80s, Coons served on President Carter's National Commission on School Finance; in the 90s he was a member of the Committee of Advisors to the Russian Ministry of Education.

In recent years Coons haspublished works on moral theory including By Nature Equal: TheAnatomy ofa Western Insight (Princeton). A central theme of this work (with Patrick Brennan) is that the well-intentioned imposition of uniform outcomes is futile and destructive. Human equality is not a coherent or benign social aspiration; it is, however, the fundamental moral fact about humans and the foundation of just institutions.

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