Plyler v. Doe

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In Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982) the United States Supreme Court ruled that children of illegal immigrants have a United States Constitutional right to attend public schools free of cost, and that this right cannot be denied by States.[1]

The case involved a Texas statute which withheld public funded education from children who were not "legally admitted" into the United States. The court ruled that the Texas clause was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment which states that no state shall "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Justice William Brennan wrote the decision for the 5-4 Court. Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Byron White, William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor all dissented.

The ruling relied on a prior Supreme Court case which ruled that the word "persons" ingrained in the U.S. Constitution related to both legal and illegal citizens.[2]

One of the deleterious effects of Plyler v. Doe has been that the decision gives illegal aliens free services without them, in turn, contributing to States education funds.[3]

As of November 2007, this decision has been questioned by one lower court decision and "distinguished" (not applied) by 41 other decisions.

Plyler v. Doe has been cited to support local ordinances concerning illegal entry and residency for the proposition that the judicial test for constitutionality of these ordinances is the most deferential standard of "rational basis": "[u]ndocumented aliens cannot be treated as a suspect class because their presence in this country in violation of federal law is not a ‘constitutional irrelevancy.’” 457 U.S. 202, 223 (1982).

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