Plyler v. Doe (1982)


In its 1982 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the state of Texas had failed to support sufficiently its case for the legitimate right of the state to deny education to illegal immigrants. The decision stemmed from the May 1973 decision of the Texas legislature to charge public school tuition to children illegally residing in the state. The restriction of state services, patterned on a number of federal programs, was designed to “prevent undue depletion” of “limited revenues available for education,” and explicitly to keep the “ever-increasing flood of illegal aliens” from undermining the “fiscal integrity of the state’s school-financing system.” The justices struck down the legislation by a 5-4 vote, conceding that public education was not a fundamental right, but arguing that denial of free tuition to illegal aliens violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Writing for the minority, Chief Justice Warren Burger argued that “by definition, illegal aliens have no right whatever to be here, and the state may reasonably, and constitutionally, elect not to provide them with governmental service at the expense of those who are lawfully within the state.” The increasing tide of illegal immigration during the 1990s led some groups to attempt to have the public services issue reviewed by the more conservative Court of the 1990s. Plyler v. Doe was cited in an injunction against California’s Proposition 187 (1994), which sought to deny government services to illegal aliens.

A–Z index