Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1

Key Facts– The schools in this case chose to adopt student assignment plans relying on race to determine which schools children would attend. Parents sue, because their children were excluded from some potential schools solely based on race.

Issue– Can a public school system classify students by race and rely on that in making school assignments?

Holding– Only if necessary to correct past discrimination

Result– Racial classification plan overturned, lower court overruled

Reasoning– Only one of the two school districts discussed ever had a segregation program in the past. At present, its past segregation has already been remedied. There is no legitimate rationale for the present system that would survive the Court’s strict scrutiny. Further, the Chief Justice argues: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

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Palmore v. Sidoti

Key Facts– A Florida court made a ruling divesting a mother of custody of her infant child, because she remarried to a person of a different race.

Issue– Is private racial bias and the possible injury it might inflict on a child a permissible consideration in removing an infant from its mother’s custody?

Holding– No

Result– Mother’s custody restored

Reasoning– The Constitution does not tolerate prejudice. While it cannot eliminate private prejudices, the law must never give it effect.

Moore v. City of East Cleveland, Ohio (1977)

Key Facts– An ordinance in East Cleveland limited occupancy of a dwelling unit to members of a single family, with “family” specifically defined. Moore appeals her conviction for permitting her grandchildren to live with her.

Issue– Does the ordinance violate Due Process?

Holding– Yes.

Result– Law overturned.

Reasoning– Cities cannot intrude so extensively into family life without a major interest involved. Here, whether it’s deliberate or not, a major impact of the statute is to dictate familial structures, which is unconstitutional.

Michael H. v. Gerald D. (1989)

Key Facts– Under California law, children born to married women living with their husbands are presumed to be children of the marriage. Michael H. had an affair with a woman married to Gerald D., and Michael H. now sues for the right to establish his paternity of the child he fathered with the wife.

Issue– Are parental rights guaranteed when one alleges paternity of a child born to a married couple?

Holding– No

Result– California law held to apply to the case.

Reasoning– California law provides an assumption of paternity for the husband. Historically, the interests of men in Michael’s situation have not been protected through any special measures. To have Due Process protection, a right must be fundamental, rooted in tradition and conscience. Since no such right exists here, state law shall apply.

Pierce v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (1925)

Key Facts– Oregon required that all youths attend public school, and parents and guardians obtained orders of restraint against this.

Issue– Can a state compel all youths to attend public schools?

Holding– No

Results– Law overturned

Reasoning– The state is not acting under exigent circumstances here. Also, children are not “mere creature[s] of the state.” Their families have a right and a duty to nurture them, which includes providing an education.

DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (1989)

Key Facts– DeShaney was beaten and permanently injured by his father, and he now sues the Department of Social Services for failing to act on his behalf and thereby depriving him of liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause.

Issue– Does the Due Process Clause impose a possible duty on state actors to protect people’s life, liberty, and property?

Holding– No

Result– Suit dismissed

Reasoning– Due Process is nowhere implied to create positive duties for the states. Rather, it protects from state action encroaching in certain areas. Further, Social Services had no affirmative duty to help the child, since Wisconsin law established no such tortious liability.

On the Impact of a Talk by Richard Ross

Richard Ross, a recent visitor to the Levin School of law, had much to say on the state of juvenile justice (or injustice, as the case may be). His words were thought provoking, but his pictures were an order of magnitude more striking. Below, find a link to his book, which seems likely to have the same emotional effect as his presentation.

The sense of moral wrong that the reality of imprisoned children can inspire is staggering. By the end of Mr. Ross’s presentation, I was hoping for solutions to correct what seemed a clear and objective system of injustice.

I suspect that the idea of an objective right and wrong is close to the hearts of most people outside of the legal profession. Of course, when I think about the popular image of lawyers, it is not that of a group of people crusading against clear injustices.

Rather, if pop culture is any indication, the public expects us to defend mainly corporations and guilty criminals, either working in an actively immoral or amoral way or at least ignoring the larger moral picture and becoming obsessed with the details and necessities of victory.

Yet when I thought about the idea of children in solitary confinement and restraints, I felt this was the sort of injustice that could not be easily ignored by anyone. Solitary confinement can be traumatic for stronger adult prisoners, and the thought of it being used on juveniles was heart-breaking.

Juvenile imprisonment itself is also a pretty disturbing thought; hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of children have been judged as ‘bad’ by the justice system, many of them before they reach puberty. How can they possibly become good citizens when the world has effectively told them they are a burden on society?

Gradually, I realized there was an element of nuance that I was missing. That is the problem with allowing oneself to be swayed by emotionally based appeals, which are invariably unbalanced on one side of an issue.

After speaking with a friend who grew up poor, around many juveniles who ended up adjudicated delinquent, I feel I have developed a somewhat better-rounded point of view.

I still think solitary confinement of minors is categorically wrong, and it probably qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

However, when I look at juveniles in the justice system, I have to look at more than just their probably unfortunate backgrounds. Almost everyone who ends up doing cruel or immoral things in their adult life was mistreated or poor as a child; this doesn’t mean that they should be set free.

Based on my friend’s experience, most of the children who end up in juvenile delinquency facilities have a long track record of causing problems, fighting, and generally making it impossible for other people to learn.

This made me think about the other side of the juvenile detention issue. If you’re one of the children who has to go to school with those kids, just as poor as them maybe, but perhaps raised a little better, how are you supposed to learn?

When I read the stories on Richard Ross’s website, I am struck first by a strong sense of empathy for the children or teenagers in them, whose families are often violent or drug users, or both. Then I’m struck by the concern that someday, these juveniles will get out, and my younger sister, or my future children, will be walking the same streets as them.

It is important to think about these things. It is important to think about more than one side. I am still not entirely sure how relevant this visitor was to my course on Legal Writing, but it was certainly a thought-provoking presentation.