Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15

PETITIONER: Morris H. Kramer et al.
RESPONDENT: Union Free School District No. 15
LOCATION: Union Free School District No. 15

DOCKET NO.: 258
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1969)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 395 US 621 (1969)
ARGUED: Jan 16, 1969
DECIDED: Jun 16, 1969

Facts of the case

Section 2012 of the New York Education Law permitted school districts to limit eligible voters in school district elections to citizens owning or leasing taxable real property and parents of children enrolled in public schools. Union School District No. 15 applied these restrictions. On April 25, 1965, Morris H. Kramer, a resident of district 15 who resided with his parents and had no children, attempted to register for the local school district elections. His application was rejected for failure to comply with the restrictions. Kramer filed a class-action suit against the school board in federal court, claiming his constitutional rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment had been violated. The district court initially declined to hear his constitutional claims, but, on appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit directed the district court to hear Kramer's claim. On hearing the complaint, the court found no constitutional violation and denied Kramer's claim.

Question

Did the requirement that he be a landowner or parent of a student to vote in school district elections violate Kramer's rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 16, 1969 in Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15

Earl Warren:

Number 258, Morris H. Kramer versus Union Free School District No. 15, et al.

Mr. Fraenkel.

Osmond K. Fraenkel:

May it please the Court.

This is an appeal from the decision of a three-judge court in the Eastern District of New York rejecting an attack on the constitutionality of Section 2012 of the New York Education Law brought by this plaintiff representing himself and others in the same class.

It deals with the qualifications for elections in local school districts and this particular statute restricts the voting to roughly two groups of persons.

The owners or renters of taxable real estate and their spouses.

Although at the time the suit was brought, the spouse of a tenant wasn't qualified but has become so since and parents of children attending the local schools.

First, excluding persons like the particular plaintiff who is a bachelor living -- an adult of course living with his parents excluding also older people living with their children, excluding lodgers and boarders and excluding residents of property which happens to be non-taxable.

The majority of the Court below upheld the law on the ground that the interest of the taxpayers and parents was more direct than the interests of the other residents of the community and that the state therefore had the right to make that distinction.

Judge Weinstein wrote a long and, to our view of course, a most persuasive dissent.

Now, the election system in New York with respect to schools is most bizarre.

In a large city like New York, the school board is appointed, although the project for decentralization of which the members of the court may have read and the new proposal by the Board of Education which had been much publicized would give all the residents of local districts the right to elect their local school boards.

In some of the other cities in New York, school boards are elected at large cities.

In all cities in New York having population of 125,000 or less, school boards are elected by the entire electorate.

It's only in the so-called country and suburban areas such as the one here involved down on Long Island that there is this distinction and restriction to taxpayers and parents.

Other state doesn't really support that distinction by anything which in our view conforms to this Court's most recent discussion of the question of equal protection.

In Williams against Rhodes where the Court noted that we have to balance the interest of the state in the exclusion which it proposed against the interest of the person excluded.

Now, here the interest of the person excluded is quite obvious be as a resident of the community and particularly in modern times where the growing interest in education, the growing ferment, not only among the community people but among the students themselves is to how their education should be handled.

It would seem a priori that everyone in the community should have a right to participate in the election of the school officials provided there be an election at all.

This Court having previously of course has determined that a state would have such local officials appointed.

Now, what does the state --

Potter Stewart:

Mr. Fraenkel, the statute provides that only people with these qualifications shall be entitled to vote at any school meeting.

Are these actual -- actually meetings or are these --

Osmond K. Fraenkel:

Yes.

Potter Stewart:

Are these ballots, secret ballots --

Osmond K. Fraenkel:

No, there are meetings.

Potter Stewart:

And ballot box voting?

Osmond K. Fraenkel:

There are meetings.

Potter Stewart:

We're just talking about meetings.

Osmond K. Fraenkel:

There are meetings at which the members of the school board are elected at the denominations made by a certain number of qualified electors.