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Sandra Day O`Connor on Education

 


Vouchers needed for failing urban public schools.

Justice O'Connor wrote the concurrence on Zelman v. Simmons-Harris on Jun 27, 2002:

The public schools in many of the poorer parts of Cleveland were deemed failures, and the legislature enacted the Pilot Project Scholarship Program to provide tuition vouchers for up to $2,250 a year to attend participating public or private schools. The parents chose where to enroll their children. In the 1999-2000 school year, 82% of the participating private schools had a religious affiliation.

HELD: Delivered by Rehnquist, joined by Scalia, Kennedy

The Ohio program does not violate the Establishment Clause, because it passed a 5-part Private Choice Test developed for this case:
  1. the program must have a valid secular purpose
  2. aid must go to parents and not to the schools
  3. a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered
  4. the program must be neutral with respect to religion, and
  5. there must be adequate nonreligious options.
Rehnquist wrote that "the incidental advancement of a religious mission is reasonably attributable to the individual aid recipients not the government, whose role ends with the disbursement of benefits."

CONCURRENCE: Concurrence by O'Connor and Thomas

Voucher programs like the one in this case are essential because "failing urban public schools disproportionately affect minority children most in need of educational opportunity." Vouchers give families an opportunity to enroll their children in more effective private schools. Otherwise, "the core purposes of the 14th Amendment" would be frustrated.

DISSENT: Dissent by Souter, joined by Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer

"The voluntary character of parochial education over an education in the public school system is irrelevant to the question whether the government's choice to pay for religious indoctrination is constitutionally permissible." Religious instruction and secular education cannot be separated and this violates the Establishment Clause.
Source: Supreme Court case 02-ZELMAN argued on Feb 20, 2002

Ok to deny scholarships to divinity students.

Justice O'Connor joined the Court's decision on Locke v. Davey on Feb 25, 2004:

Voting 7-2, the court upholds the provisions of Washington state's Promise Scholarship program, which offers taxpayer-funded scholarships to low-income college students enrolled in secular studies.

HELD: Delivered by Rehnquist, joined by Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer

The justices rule in Locke v. Davey that states are not violating the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom if they choose not to subsidize students studying for the ministry. The decision upholds the constitutionality of the scholarship program which excluded students pursuing a "degree in theology."

DISSENT: Dissent by Scalia, joined by Thomas

When the State withholds a benefit from some individuals solely on the basis of religion, it violates the Free Exercise Clause no less than if it had imposed a special tax. That is precisely what the State of Washington has done here. It has created a generally available public benefit, whose receipt is conditioned only on academic performance, income, and attendance at an accredited school. It has then carved out a solitary course of study for exclusion: theology.
Source: Supreme Court case 04-LOCKE argued on Dec 2, 2003

Limited public funding OK for parochial school materials.

Justice O'Connor wrote the concurrence on MITCHELL v. HELMS on Jun 28, 2000:

Chapter 2 of the Education Consolidation and Improvement Act channels federal funds for educational materials such as library media and computer software, to public and private schools to implement “secular, neutral, and nonideological” programs. About 30% of Chapter 2 funds spent in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, are allocated for private schools, most of which are religiously affiliated. Respondents filed suit alleging that Chapter 2 violated the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Held:

(Thomas, joined by Rehnquist, Scalia, and Kennedy)
Chapter 2, as applied in Jefferson Parish, is not a law respecting an establishment of religion simply because many of the private schools receiving Chapter 2 aid in the parish are religiously affiliated.

Concurrence:

(O’Connor, joined by Breyer)
The expansive scope of the plurality’s rule is troubling. First, the plurality’s treatment of neutrality comes close to assigning that factor singular importance in the future adjudication of Establishment Clause challenges to government school-aid programs. Second, the plurality’s approval of actual diversion of government aid to religious indoctrination is in tension with our precedents and is unnecessary to decide this case. [Within those limits], I concur in the judgment.

Dissent:

(Souter, joined by Stevens and Ginsburg)
The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause bars the use of public funds for religious aid. The plurality is candid in pointing out the extent of actual diversion of Chapter 2 aid to religious use in the case before us, and equally candid in saying it does not matter. To the plurality there is nothing wrong with aiding a school’s religious mission; the only question is whether religious teaching obtains its tax support under a formally evenhanded criterion of distribution. The plurality equates a refusal to aid religious schools with hostility to religion. I respectfully dissent.
Source: Supreme Court case 98-1648 argued on Dec 1, 1999

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Other Justices on Education: Sandra Day O`Connor on other issues:
Samuel Alito
Stephen Breyer
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Elena Kagan
Anthony Kennedy
John Roberts
Antonin Scalia
Sonia Sotomayor
Clarence Thomas

Former Justices:
David Souter
Sandra Day O'Connor
William Rehnquist
John Paul Stevens

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Page last updated: Mar 08, 2014