Link to audio of oral argument: Plyler v. Doe - Oral Argument
"Thirty years ago the Supreme Court ruled on a profound question in
American life: whether states could bar undocumented children from
receiving public education. On June 15, 1982, in the case of Plyler v. Doe,
the Court struck down a Texas statute that permitted local school
districts to charge tuition to undocumented students. In doing so, it
guaranteed that all children in the United States would receive a basic
That seminal ruling extended the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal
protection to undocumented immigrants, and it prevented a generation of
immigrant children from being pushed to the margins of society. It
effectively blocked states from relegating these kids to the lowest
socioeconomic rung merely because of their immigration status, and it
ensured that a generation of children would grow up as Americans, not as
castoffs. Finally, it protected the nation’s own economic and social
self-interest by ensuring that all children have the ability to become
educated, well integrated, and economically productive.
This week is Plyler’s 30th anniversary and there is much to
praise about the opinion. In particular, we celebrate the decision’s
affirmation that the constitutional values of fair and equal treatment
supersede a state’s desire to marginalize undocumented immigrants. We
celebrate its moral contribution to our national identity by elevating
the humanity of these young people over their immigration status. And we
celebrate its positive social impact in helping integrate these
immigrant children and their families into our schools and communities.
Plyler v. Doe at a glance
Unfortunately, despite the Court’s ruling and the concrete moral foundation on which it rests, Plyler
has been and remains under attack by immigration restrictionists. After
three decades in which the courts have rightfully overturned any attack
on undocumented children’s education, today well-funded
anti-immigration groups have hatched a plan to encourage the Supreme
Court to revisit and overturn both the Plyler ruling and other well-settled legal questions about the limits of a state’s power in the immigration realm.
At any other time attacking Plyler would be a futile exercise because, under a hallowed judicial doctrine of precedence known as stare decisis,
a Supreme Court ruling binds future rulings in all but the most
extraordinary cases. Later this month the Court will announce its
decision on the constitutionality of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, S.B.
1070, and we will get our first insight into how today’s conservative
Court will approach state involvement in the immigration arena. But the
conservative justices on today’s Supreme Court already appear relatively
unconstrained by precedent and more than willing to revisit firmly
established cases—the Citizens United case overturning restrictions on political money from businesses and corporations is but one example—leaving the fate of Plyler up in the air.
Against this urgent backdrop, we first briefly revisit the landmark Plyler
ruling and its analytical underpinnings. We then review the major
challenges leveled against it and the fresh ones on the horizon. Lastly,
we consider what life would be like without Plyler—including the
devastating effect on our children and on our nation as a whole—to
underscore the importance of the current debate." - Marshall Fitz, Philip E. Wolgin and Ann Garcia, Center for American Progress.