Board of Education or Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet

PETITIONER: Board of Education or Kiryas Joel Village School District
LOCATION: Kiryas Joel Village School District

DOCKET NO.: 93-517
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT: New York Court of Appeals

CITATION: 512 US 687 (1994)
ARGUED: Mar 30, 1994
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1994

Julie S. Mereson - Argued the cause for the state petitioner
Jay Worona - Argued the cause for the respondents
Nathan Lewin - Argued the cause for the school district petitioners

Facts of the case

In 1989, the New York legislature passed a school districting law that intentionally drew its boundaries in accordance with the boundaries of the Village of Kiryas Joel, a religious enclave of Satmar Hasidim who practice a strict form of Judaism. Shortly before the new district commenced operations, the taxpayers and the association of state school boards embarked on a lawsuit claiming that the statute created a school district that limited access only to residents of Kiryas Joel.


Did the 1989 statute violate the First Amendment's Establishment?

Media for Board of Education or Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 30, 1994 in Board of Education or Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 27, 1994 in Board of Education or Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 93-517, Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District versus Grumet and companion cases will be announced by Justice Souter.

David H. Souter:

This case is in fact three consolidated Establishment Clause cases which come to us on certiorari to the Court of Appeals of New York.

They require us to decide the constitutionality of New York statute creating a special school district for the Village of Kiryas Joel.

Kiryas Joel was once part of the Town of Monroe New York.

It was and still is a neighborhood composed entirely of Hasidic Jews who are members of a sect called the Satmar.

In 1977, the Satmar neighborhood became separately incorporated as the Village of Kiryas Joel in accordance with the New York statute designed to allow almost any neighborhood within an existing town to incorporate its own village.

But the Village of Kiryas Joel remains part of Monroe-Woodbury Central School District until the legislature pass the statute we review today.

That statute sets up a school district with all the normal powers to collect local property taxes and operate public schools.

But unlike in normal school district, this one incorporates only the Village of Kiryas Joel and is thus, unusually small and uniquely homogeneous.

The range of services the school district offers is also unique because almost all children in Kiryas Joel attend private religious academies.

The village's only public school is one solely for handicap children and it has only 40 full time students.

The State Supreme Court for Albany County decided that the statute creating the special school district violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The appellate division and finally the States Court of Appeals agreed that the statute was unconstitutional.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we affirm the judgment of the highest New York Court.

The Establishment Clause compels the state to pursue a course of neutrality towards religion favoring neither one religion over others nor religious adherence generally over non-adherence.

The portion of my opinion that speaks for the Court explains that when the state gave the benefits of a special little school district to only one religious group, it violated this command of neutrality.

The statute applies just to the Satmars of Kiryas Joel.

It provides no means by which another religious group or a non-sectarian group might obtain the same benefit, nor does the historically practice in the state give any indication that other applicants for small separate district would be treated as the Satmars were.

Our history, in fact, suggests that they would not be.

While the State of New York may do a number of things to address the educational problems of handicap children in Kiryas Joel, it may not provide this kind of special treatment.

A separate portion of my opinion joined by Justice Blackmun, Justice Stevens, and Justice Ginsburg explains the state's further problem of delegating political power to a group defined according to religion.

The New York legislature purposely drew the school district in a way that made it all Satmar so that the Satmar community could effectively control public schools in its neighborhood.

The Establishment Clause forbids a state to confer a civil authority on a group identified by law according to its religion.

The group of local voters who threw their elected representatives run public schools in Kiryas Joel were impermissibly identified on the basis of their membership in the Satmar Sect.

Justice Blackmun has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Stevens has filed a concurring opinion in which Justices Blackmun and Ginsburg join; Justice O'Connor has filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment; Justice Kennedy has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment on the ground that the state may not use religion as a criterion to draw up political or electoral lines; Justice Scalia dissents, and the Chief Justice and Justice Thomas have joined his dissenting opinion.