Meyer v. Nebraska
262 U.S. 390 (1923)

  • Nebraska has a law that made it illegal to teach children to speak foreign languages. Meyer was a schoolteacher who taught a kid some German. He was arrested and fined. He appealed.
  • The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed. Meyer appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction and found the Nebraska law to be unconstitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court found that there was a fundamental right of parents to control the upbringing of their children, including a right to teach them German.
    • The Court therefore found the Nebraska law to be a violation of substantive due process.
      • The “liberty” protected by the Due Process clause “without doubt…denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”
  • This case, along with Pierce v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (268 U.S. 510 (1925)), is often cited as one of the first instances in which the US Supreme Court engaged in substantive due process in the area of civil liberties.
  • This case was decided on the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, but it could also have been decided on 1st Amendment freedom of speech grounds.