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Access to Education

  • Plyler v. Doe
  • Brown v. Board of Education
  • Cooper v. Aaron
  • What is Your Opinion?

Summary of a Fourteenth Amendment Landmark case:
Plyler v. Doe 457 U.S. 202 (1982)

FACTS:

In 1975, the Texas Legislature revised its education laws to deny enrollment in their public schools to and withhold any state funds for the education of children who were not "legally admitted" to the country.

A class action was filed on behalf of certain school-age children of Mexican origin residing in Texas who could not establish that they had been legally admitted into the United States. The class filed a motion for permanent injunctive relief, asking the district court to prevent defendants from denying a free public education to members of the class.

In deciding the motion, the district court found that neither the revised law nor its implementation had "either the purpose or effect of keeping illegal aliens out of the State of Texas." The district court also found that the increase in enrollment in Texas public schools was primarily attributable to the admission of children who were legal residents. Finally, the district court found that while barring undocumented children would save money, it would not necessarily improve the quality of the education. The court then concluded that illegal aliens were entitled to the protection of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that the Texas legislation violated it.

The Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

ISSUE:

Whether denying undocumented children of illegal immigrants the right to attend public school constitutes discrimination based on alienage that violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

RULING:

Yes.

REASONING:

(Brennan, J.) By a 5–4 vote, the Court concluded that the Texas legislation violated the Equal Protection Clause. The Court explained that "education has a fundamental role in maintaining the fabric of our society" and "provides the basic tools by which individuals might lead economically productive lives to the benefit of us all." Further, while persuasive arguments support the view that a state may withhold benefits from people whose presence within the country is a result of unlawful conduct, the children of such illegal entrants "can affect neither their parents' conduct nor their own status," and "legislation directing the onus of a parent's misconduct against his children does not comport with fundamental conceptions of justice."

While the state has a legitimate interest in protecting itself from an influx of illegal immigrants, there was no evidence to suggest that any immigrants came to the country to avail themselves of a free education. Similarly, while the state has an interest in removing burdens on the state's ability to provide high-quality public education, there was no evidence that the exclusion of undocumented children was likely to improve the overall quality of education in Texas.

Accordingly, the majority affirmed the lower court's ruling.

CONCURRENCE:

(Marshall, J.) Justice Marshall emphasized that he believed an individual's interest in education is fundamental and that this belief "is amply supported by the unique status accorded public education by our society, and by the close relationship between education and some of our most basic constitutional values."

(Blackmun, J.) Justice Blackmun noted that "when a state provides an education to some and denies it to others, it immediately and inevitably creates class distinctions of a type fundamentally inconsistent with" the purposes of the Equal Protection Clause because "an uneducated child is denied even the opportunity to achieve." When those children are members of an identifiable class, the state has created a separable and identifiable underclass.

(Powell, J.) Justice Powell emphasized the unique character of the case. He noted that under the Texas law, a group of children is deprived of the opportunity for education because of a violation of law by their parents. "A legislative classification that threatens the creation of an underclass of future citizens and residents cannot be reconciled with one of the fundamental purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment."

DISSENT:

(Burger, C.J.) The dissent asserted that any issues concerning whether or not to admit children of undocumented immigrants into public schools should be dealt with by the legislature as opposed to the judiciary. The dissenting Justices agreed that "it would be folly—and wrong—to tolerate creation of a segment of society made up of illiterate persons." However, they concluded that such a decision should be made by the political branches because it is a policy issue inappropriate for the Court to undertake.

Summary of a Fourteenth Amendment Landmark case:
Brown v. Board of Education 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

FACTS:

In cases brought in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware, African American children sought admission to the public schools in their community on a nonsegregated basis. In each state, they were denied admissions to schools attended by white children under laws requiring or permitting segregation on the basis of race. In each of the cases other than the Delaware case, federal courts denied relief to plaintiffs on the "separate but equal" doctrine set forth by the Court in Plessy v. Ferguson. Under that doctrine, treatment is equal when races are provided substantially equal facilities, even if they are separate. In the Delaware case, the Supreme Court of Delaware adhered to that doctrine, but ordered that plaintiffs be admitted to the white schools because of their superiority to the other schools. The plaintiffs appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that segregated schools are not equal and cannot be made equal.

ISSUE:

Whether requiring or permitting racial segregation in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

RULING:

Yes.

REASONING:

(Warren, J.) The Court concluded that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. The Court noted that education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments and the foundation of good citizenship. Education includes intangible considerations, such as the ability to study, to engage in discussions with other students, and in general, to learn a profession. To separate students on the basis of race creates "a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone." Therefore, the Court concluded that the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place in public education.

CONCURRENCE:

(Stewart, J.) Justice Stewart concurred in the judgment of the Court but cautioned that this would be a very different case if the Amish faith forbade children from attending school at all. According to Justice Stewart, while a high value is placed religious freedom, that value should not denigrate the interest of the state in enforcing minimal education standards.

DISSENT:

(Douglas, J.) Justice Douglas disagreed with the Court's reasoning on several grounds but primarily with its consideration only of the parents' rights, and not those of the children. According to Justice Douglas, the children's rights were put at issue in the case and "[w]here the child is mature enough to express potentially conflicting desires, it would be an invasion of the child's rights to permit such an imposition without canvassing his views." Because only one child had testified that her own religious views were opposed to high school, Justice Douglas joined in the judgment of the Court as to that child's father. Justice Douglas dissented from the judgment as to the other parents because the other children did not similarly testify.

Summary of a Fourteenth Amendment Landmark case:
Cooper v. Aaron 358 U.S. 1 (1978)

FACTS:

Following its decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Court formulated a decree to affect the decision. Specifically, the Court required that the defendants "make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance" with the Court's order and to end segregation in the public schools "with all deliberate speed."

Three days after the Court's opinion in Brown, the Little Rock District School Board in Little Rock, Arkansas, began preparing a comprehensive plan for the complete desegregation of the school system.

At the same time, however, various state authorities, including the state legislature and governor, were actively pursuing means to perpetuate racial segregation in the Arkansas public school system. For example, in 1957, the School Board and the Superintendent of Schools continued with preparations to carry out the first stage of the desegregation program with the admission of nine African American students to Central High School. The day before the students were to enter the school, the Governor of Arkansas dispatched units of the Arkansas National Guard to the school and placed it "off limits" to African American students. When the nine African American students attempted to enter the high school two days later, the Arkansas National Guard forcibly prevented them from entering the building. The Arkansas National Guard continued to do so every day for the next three weeks.

The federal government, through the United States Attorney and the Attorney General, filed a motion in federal court to stop the governor and the Arkansas National Guard from interfering with the nine students' attendance. A federal district court granted the motion, and the Arkansas National Guard was withdrawn from the school. Subsequently, the President of the United States dispatched federal troops to Central High School to ensure that the nine students would be admitted safely to school.

Because of the hostility, caused in large part by the acts of state authorities, the School Board and Superintendent sought postponement of the desegregation plan for two-and-a-half years. The district court granted their motion. The Court of Appeals reversed.

ISSUE:

Whether the Court should uphold a suspension of a desegregation plan until state laws and efforts to challenge Brown v. Board of Education have been challenged and tested in the courts?

RULING:

No.

REASONING:

(Chief Justice Warren) The Court unanimously held that law and order cannot be preserved by depriving African American children of their constitutional rights. "The constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color declared by this Court in the Brown case can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers, not nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation." Because the Supreme Court has the ultimate authority in determining what the Constitution means and because it concluded that segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause, no state authority or state law may require or allow for racial segregation in public education. Accordingly, the desegregation plan could not be suspended.

CONCURRENCE:

(Frankfurter, J.) Justice Frankfurter noted that while the State of Arkansas was not a formal party in the proceedings, it was legally and morally a party before the Court as a result of its use of armed force to thwart the law. Violent resistance to law, even if used by a state, cannot be used as a legal reason for the law's suspension. As such, Justice Frankfurter found that Arkansas' actions were "subversive not only of our constitutional system but of the presuppositions of democracy." He also noted that it is the responsibility of those who exercise power in a democratic government to help form the public's understanding and support the supreme law of the land, the Constitution.

What is Your Opinion?

  • Why might it be important for courts to decide cases that tend to have an adverse impact on children?

     

     

  • Why should the government have a role in education?

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