Plyler v. Doe
457 U.S. 202 (1982)

  • Texas revised their State education laws. Part of the revisions denied funding to schools that admitted illegal aliens, and would permit schools to deny admission to students who could not show they were legal residents.
  • Various immigrant groups sued, claiming that the legal resident requirement was an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
    • Specifically, the Equal Protection Clause says that “no person shall be denied equal protection under the laws…,” it does not say “legal resident.”
  • The US Supreme Court found the Texas Statute to be unconstitutional.
    • In a partial reversal of previous opinions, the US Supreme Court found that the proper standard of judicial review for alienage classifications was intermediate scrutiny.
      • In Graham v. Richardson (403 U.S. 365 (1971)), the Court had previously used strict scrutiny as the standard for judicial review.
    • The Court found that the Statute violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because denial on the basis of alienage (aka alienage classifications) did not further a substantial state interest (aka intermediate scrutiny).
      • The only State interest that the law would further is to save a little money on education costs.
    • The Court found that a law was “directed against children, and imposed its discriminatory burden on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children can have little control,” namely, the fact of their having been brought illegally into the United States by their parents.
      • While you could argue that the parents don’t deserve special treatment because they were doing something illegal, the children were totally innocent and their illegal immigrant status was not voluntary.
    • The Court noted that denying the children an education would likely contribute to “the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime.”
  • In a dissent it was argued that prior Court decisions held that illegal immigrants are not a suspect class, and that education is not a fundamental right, so the proper standard of judicial review should be rational basis review.
    • The issue is that, based on other cases, saving some money on education is enough to meet rational basis, so if the Court wanted to overturn this law (and even the dissent agreed that it was a horrible law), then the Court had to find a higher level of review than rational basis.