Equal Protection - In the Courts!

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Plyer v. Doe, 1982

Texas passed a law that denied undocumented immigrants or illegal aliens the right to a free education. When this law was challenged, however, the U.S. Supreme Court said that the law was unconstitutional because it had violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection clause because it had discriminated against children who were not U.S. citizens. Because the U.S. Constitution states that all children, not just citizens, have the right to free education, the law was struck down.


Lau v. Nichols, 1974

The San Francisco School District wouldn’t provide English language instruction to Chinese students who couldn’t speak English. Because this denied the Chinese students a right to a free education, the U.S. Supreme Court demanded that the school teach English to the Chinese students. Specifically, they stated: “Simple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers of all races contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages … or results in racial discrimination.”

 Davis v. Monroe, 1999

Fifth grader LaShonda Davis was continually sexually harassed by a male student. She was so upset by these actions, she claimed that her grades dropped and she even thought about suicide. Even though LaShonda and her parents complained repeatedly to the school officials that she and other students were being sexually harassed, nothing was done. Finally, LaShonda and her parents filed a lawsuit against the school district. Because the school was noted to be indifferent to these actions, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the school district was liable for damages under Title IX. Because the sexual harassment occurred on school grounds, was known by school officials and was so serious and pervasive, the court said that in effect the school was denying LaShonda equal access to education.

 Nabozny v. Podlesny, 1996

In Wisconsin, Jamie S. Nabozny was continually harassed and physically abused throughout his middle- and high-school years. Along with his parents, Jamie tried to get the teachers and principals to do something about the harassment. Following a brutally abusive incident, the principal allegedly told Jamie and his parents that he should expect incidents like that because he was “openly gay.” Jamie and his parents sued the school district for failing to protect him from anti-gay harassment from other students. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit agreed with Jamie and his parents, stating that the school district had violated Jamie’s right to equal protection by discriminating against him on the basis of his sexual orientation. The court stated there was no rational reason that the school should be allowed to permit one student to assault another simply because of the student’s sexual orientation.

 Fricke v. Lynch, 1980

Aaron Fricke asked Paul Guilbert to the senior prom; however, the principal at Aaron’s school wouldn’t allow the two of them to go together. The principal was worried that perhaps the other students might be offended or that the situation might get violent. Aaron promptly sued in Rhode Island district court so that he could take Paul to the prom. He felt that he had a right to attend the prom with anyone he chose - just like all of the other students - and that he had a right to make a public statement for equal rights. Because the court said the school was violating Aaron’s free speech and association rights by denying him the opportunity to go to the prom with the date of his choice, Aaron was able to attend the prom with Paul.