Plyler v. Doe

457 U.S. 202, 102 S. Ct. 2382 (1982)



The Equal Protection Clause, U.S. Const. amend. XIV directs that all persons in similar circumstances shall be treated alike. But so too, the Constitution does not require things that are different in fact or opinion to be treated in law as though they were the same. The initial discretion to determine what is different and what is the same resides in the legislatures of the states. A legislature must have substantial latitude to establish classifications that roughly approximate the nature of the problem perceived, that accommodate competing concerns both public and private, and that account for limitations on the practical ability of the state to remedy every ill. In applying the Equal Protection Clause to most forms of state action, the classification must bear some fair relationship to a legitimate public purpose/substantial state interest.  


The Texas Legislature revised its education laws to authorize local school districts to deny enrollment in public schools to children not legally admitted to the country. Plaintiffs, undocumented school-aged children, challenged the revision on equal protection grounds. The circuit court held that the revision violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Defendant school districts sought review and the court affirmed.


Did the undocumented school children enjoy the protection afforded by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?




The United States Supreme Court rejected the claim that illegal aliens were a suspect class. Unlike most of the classifications that had been recognized as suspect, entry into this class, by virtue of entry into this country, was the product of voluntary action. Indeed, entry into the class was itself a crime. However, plaintiffs were not comparably situated. The protection of the Fourteenth Amendment extended to anyone, citizen or stranger, who was subject to the laws of a state. Furthermore, denial of an education to plaintiffs posed an affront to one of the goals of the Equal Protection Clause, which was the abolition of governmental barriers presenting unreasonable obstacles to advancement on the basis of individual merit.

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