Plyler v. Doe

LOCATION: Tyler Independent School District

DOCKET NO.: 80-1538
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 457 US 202 (1982)
ARGUED: Dec 01, 1981
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1982

John C. Hardy - Argued the cause for the appellants in Plyler v. Doe
Peter D. Roos - Argued the cause for the appellees in Plyler v. Doe
Peter A. Schey - Argued the cause for appellees in the related case
Richard L. Arnett - Argued the cause for appellants in the related case

Facts of the case

A revision to the Texas education laws in 1975 allowed the state to withhold from local school districts state funds for educating children of illegal aliens. This case was decided together with Texas v. Certain Named and Unnamed Alien Child.


Did the law violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Plyler v. Doe

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 01, 1981 in Plyler v. Doe

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Number 80-1538, Plyer, Superintendent of School District, against Doe and the consolidated cases.

Counsel, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Richard L. Arnett:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the questions before this Court today may and indeed based on the last year's experience will dramatically affect the future of the state of Texas and some of its school districts.

Texas sits geographically right on top of the hub of Mexico's population, in contrast to California, where the bordering state of Mexico has a population... had a population of one million in 1970.

The four Mexican states bordering Texas had populations of six million.

It is approximately one-third as far to Brownsville from Mexico City as it is to San Diego.

When one considers the problem of familial migration into this country, it seems reasonably clear that Texas is indeed the state which will be most dramatically impacted by this type of illegal migration.

When one considers the fact that Mexico's population is doubling approximately every 20 years, and that approximately four and a half million children of school age are out of school in Mexico right now because of lack of adequate facilities, it doesn't take a great deal of imagination to understand the Texas legislature's concerns for the future.

With the federal government doing very little to control the problem other than to deny its largess to illegal aliens, and I use that term because it does describe the people that Texas seeks to exclude from its schools, persons who are illegally present in the country, but as I say, with the federal government doing very little, nothing at all realistically, to help the impacted school districts in providing a basic program of education to their residents, be them legal or illegal presently, the Texas legislature enacted Section 21031 of the Texas Education Code in 1975 to curtail the drain of the state's educational resources and those of its districts, which drain only promised to increase in the future.

Now, Section 21031 basically codifies two distinct provisions.

One denies state funding on the basis of the attendance of pupils who are not lawfully admitted into the state.

The other exempts from the requirement for tuition-free admission that is imposed upon the districts those children who are not lawfully admitted into the United States.

Those two provisions conceivably could differ in result in this case.

The latter, not requiring school districts to admit them, in essence leaves it at the discretion of local districts to review their circumstances.

Now, we have raised the issue, and it has been invited certainly by the decisions of this Court, the consistent language of the decisions of this Court, concerning whether illegal aliens are in fact protected by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Our concerns rest more with the manner of the application of the equal protection clause than they do the application alone.

Texas has no interest in legislating in an irrational manner.

However, Texas is very interested in having their legitimate interests recognized by this Court, and in the event that they are, we see no problems with that.

It largely... the application of the equal protection clause largely presents a policy issue.

We don't really have too much to add to what we have put in our brief on that point, and with the limited time we have here today, we would like to address the manner of any application, as well as the underlying state interests at issue here.

Let me ask one question, counsel.

If the equal protection clause is not protective of undocumented aliens, could the state of Texas impose harsher criminal penalties upon them?

Richard L. Arnett:

Well, you may have Eighth Amendment problems, it would seem to me, Your Honor.

Certainly were the equal protection clause not applicable, and I might add that we have restricted our argument in that respect to governmental services; it seems to us that that is the one area which may do the most... may cause the most judicial interference with political decisions in this area.

There can't be any question, can there, that an alien, documented or undocumented, brought before a criminal court is entitled to the same due process as any other person in the United States?

Richard L. Arnett:

No, Your Honor, it is not, and it may well be that the due process clause in that respect may be read to answer the problem that Justice Blackmun posed as well as that which is also posed by the Fifth Circuit.

But in addressing the application of the equal protection clause, the first thing I think we need to look at is the nature of the class at issue.

One of the intimations and accusations in this case that I would like to dispel immediately is that this statute embodies any racial animus.

This whole case originated in 1975, when a district on the border, Eagle Pass, which has a 95-percent Mexican American population, decided to enact a policy precluding illegal aliens from admission into their schools.

The Attorney General of Texas was asked for his opinion as to the legality of that.