Meyer v. Nebraska Case Brief

Facts of the case

Nebraska passed a law prohibiting teaching grade school children any language other than English. Meyer, who taught German in a Lutheran school, was convicted under this law.

Why is the case important?

Plaintiff was convicted for teaching a child German under a Nebraska statute that outlawed the teaching of foreign languages to students that had not yet completed the eighth grade.

Question

Does the statute as construed and applied unreasonably infringe on the liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment?

ANSWER

The statute as applied is unconstitutional because it infringes on the liberty interests of the plaintiff and fails to reasonably relate to any end within the competency of the state.
The Fourteenth Amendment encompasses more than merely the freedom from bodily restraint. The state argues that the purpose of the statute is to encourage the English language to be the native tongue of all children raised in the state. Nonetheless, the protection of the Constitution extends to those who speak other languages. Education is a fundamental liberty interest that must be protected, and mere knowledge of the German language cannot be reasonably regarded as harmful.

CONCLUSION

The court reversed, holding that the statute was arbitrary and without reasonable relation to any legitimate State goal. The court further held that the liberty guaranteed by U.S. Const. amend. XIV protected the teacher’s right to teach and the right of parents to engage the teacher in educating their children. The court stated that education and acquisition of knowledge were matters of supreme importance that should be diligently promoted. The State could not, under the guise of exercising its police power, interfere with such guaranteed liberty interests. The court found that, by the statute, the legislature was attempting to materially interfere with the calling of modern language teachers, with the opportunities of students to acquire knowledge, and with the power of parents to control the education of their own children. Thus, the teacher’s conviction was based on an unconstitutional statute.

  • Advocates: –
  • Petitioner: Meyer
  • Respondent: State of Nebraska
  • DECIDED BY:Taft Court
  • Location: –
Citation: 262 US 390 (1923)
Argued: Feb 23, 1923
Decided: Jun 4, 1923
Meyer v. Nebraska Case Brief