Goss v. Lopez

LOCATION:Twenty-Second Judicial District Court for the Parish of St. Tammany

DOCKET NO.: 73-898
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 419 US 565 (1975)
ARGUED: Oct 16, 1974
DECIDED: Jan 22, 1975

Peter D. Roos – for appellees
Thomas A. Bustin – for appellants

Facts of the case

Nine students at two high schools and one junior high school in Columbus, Ohio, were given 10-day suspensions from school. The school principals did not hold hearings for the affected students before ordering the suspensions, and Ohio law did not require them to do so. The principals’ actions were challenged, and a federal court found that the students’ rights had been violated. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court.


Did the imposition of the suspensions without preliminary hearings violate the students’ Due Process rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Goss v. Lopez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 16, 1974 in Goss v. Lopez

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 22, 1975 in Goss v. Lopez

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the court in 73-898, Goss against Lopez will be announced by Mr. Justice White.

Byron R. White:

This case is here on appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

It involves the validity under the Due Process Clause having an Ohio statute which permits the principle of an Ohio school to suspend a pupil for misconduct for up to 10 days without provision of any kind for a hearing either before or after the suspension has taken place.

Under this statute, various students were suspended for up to 10 days, some of them for conduct that occurred away from their own school.

The District Court held that the students were denied due process of law because they were suspended without a hearing either prior to suspension or within a reasonable time thereafter.

The statute was declared unconstitutional and all references to the plaintiff’s suspensions were ordered removed from the files.

For the most part, we agree with the District Court.

We hold that the plaintiff students here involved had a legitimate claim of entitlement to a public education and the school authorities could not deprive anyone of them of that expectation for more than a negligible period of time without meeting with him, informing him of the charge and the evidence and permitting him to present his side of the story.

It is our view that these rudimentary requirements are no more than the fair-minded school administrator would have — in accord of his own volition and that in any event they will provide a significant hedge against mistaken or arbitrary suspensions.

The judgment of the District Court is therefore affirmed.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

For the first time that the federal judiciary rather than state legislatures and educational officials may determine the rules applicable to routine classroom discipline in public schools.

It justifies this unprecedented intrusion into the processes of elementary and secondary education by identifying a new constitutional right.

The right of a student not to be suspended for as much as a single day without notice and without a due process hearing either before or promptly following the suspension.

Only six years ago in Epperson against Arkansas, the Court emphasized that the public schools are committed to the control by the state and local authorities.

The court went on to say and here I quote, “Courts do not and cannot intervene in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems and which do not directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values.”

It seems to me that the Court today tends its back on this and other similar precedents.

It can hardly be claimed seriously that a school principal’s decision to suspend a pupil for a single day directly and sharply implicates basic constitutional values.

The right which the Court purports to protect is the right to education accorded by the State of Ohio.

The same Ohio law authorizes routine suspensions not to exceed eight school days.

This is a prerogative exercised by school authorities since the beginning of education.

Indeed, the lesson of discipline, of its necessity in a civilized society is an essential element of education itself as necessary as learning to read and write.

To be sure the process found today by the Court to be due appears to be relatively simple.

Indeed, it may not afford more realistic protection against the occasional arbitrary suspension that Ohio law already provides.

But my concern is with the principle and the precedent.

If a pupil is entitled to a due process hearing if suspended even for a day, presumably he also will be entitled to such a hearing on other discretionary decisions which affect far more seriously a state conferred right to education.

For example, if given a failing grade, if not promoted, if excluded from certain extracurricular activities, if placed in the vocational rather than a college preparatory track or indeed if bused for long distances away from his residence.

If the Court perceives a rational distinction between the discretionary decision to suspend the pupil for a brief period and the types of discretionary decisions I have just mentioned, it has failed to articulate any such distinction in its opinion.

The inevitable result of today’s decision will be to substitute in many situations the uninformed and inexpert judgment of federal courts or that of the 14,000 school boards and 2 million public school teachers who heretofore had been responsible for the day to day operations of our public schools.

In short, it will further undermine the already waning authority of these harassed school officials.

Until the day elected school boards, teachers and school authorities having free to exercise their informed discretion in their best interest of immature pupils in elementary and secondary schools.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

They will henceforth act at the peril of judicial challenge by any disgruntled or disappointed student.

In my view, the Court’s decision is unwarranted as a matter of constitutional law and it may well deal a serious blow to public education in our country.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice White and Mr. Justice Powell.