San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez

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In San Antonio Independent School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 28 (1973), the U.S. Supreme Court held by a 5-4 margin that public education is not a fundamental, constitutional right. The Court reversed a decision that had declared the system of public schools in Texas, with their disparities in funding throughout the State, to be unconstitutional.

Justice Lewis Powell wrote the decision for the Court, and Justice Potter Stewart provided the pivotal concurrence. Justices Byron White, William Brennan, William Douglas, and Thurgood Marshall dissented.

Justice Brennan wrote this telling statement in dissent (in addition to joining Justice White's longer dissent):

Although I agree with my Brother WHITE that the Texas statutory scheme is devoid of any rational basis, and for that reason is violative of the Equal Protection Clause, I also record my disagreement with the Court's rather distressing assertion that a right may be deemed "fundamental" for the purposes of equal protection analysis only if it is "explicitly or implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution." As my Brother MARSHALL convincingly demonstrates, our prior cases stand for the proposition that "fundamentality" is, in large measure, a function of the right's importance in terms of the effectuation of those rights which are in fact constitutionally guaranteed. Thus, "[a]s the nexus between the specific constitutional guarantee and the nonconstitutional interest draws closer, the nonconstitutional interest becomes more fundamental and the degree of judicial scrutiny applied when the interest is infringed on a discriminatory basis must be adjusted accordingly."
Here, there can be no doubt that education is inextricably linked to the right to participate in the electoral process and to the rights of free speech and association guaranteed by the First Amendment. This being so, any classification affecting education must be subjected to strict judicial scrutiny, and since even the State concedes that the statutory scheme now before us cannot pass constitutional muster under this stricter standard of review, I can only conclude that the Texas school-financing scheme is constitutionally invalid.

Id. at 62-64 (citations omitted).