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Case Name Doe v. Plyler ED-TX-0006
Docket / Court TY-77-261-CA ( E.D. Tex. )
State/Territory Texas
Case Type(s) Education
Special Collection Civil Rights Division Archival Collection
Attorney Organization MALDEF
Case Summary
This is a case that reached the Supreme Court in 1982; in an opinion by Justice Brennan, the Cour held that denying undocumented children of undocumented immigrants the right to attend public school constitutes discrimination based on alienage, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the ... read more >
This is a case that reached the Supreme Court in 1982; in an opinion by Justice Brennan, the Cour held that denying undocumented children of undocumented immigrants the right to attend public school constitutes discrimination based on alienage, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982)


The case began on September 6, 1977, when a group of undocumented Mexican immigrant children filed a class action complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief after their exclusion from Tyler Independent School District (TISD) public schools. Specifically, they challenged TISD's decision as authorized by a Texas statute (§ 21.031) to charge any undocumented children tuition of $1,000 per school year to be able to attend TISD schools. The state statute was passed in 1975 in response to concerns about overcrowding in Texas schools due to increased migration from Mexico of both legally present and undocumented immigrants. TISD developed its subsequent tuition policy out of concern that growing numbers of immigrant students in its schools would eventually result in a drain on its funds. Plaintiffs argued that this policy was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and that the Texas statute was preempted by the federal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Plaintiffs were represented by the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) in front of (then) District Judge William Wayne Justice.

District court
The district court held a hearing on September 9, 1977, at which the state's motion to intervene was granted. Judge Justice subsequently certified a class "consisting of all undocumented school-age children of Mexican origin residing within the School District" and granted plaintiffs a preliminary injunction on September 12, allowing the children in question to begin the school year. A trial on the merits was held early in 1978, and the United States also filed a post-trial brief in support of plaintiffs' equal protection argument. On September 14, 1978, Judge Justice issued an opinion finding for plaintiffs on both arguments and permanently enjoining the defendants from implementing the Texas statute. 458 F.Supp. 569.

On the equal protection claim, the court did not conclusively answer the question of whether the children in question were a suspect class or whether rational basis review was more appropriate, instead holding that TISD and Texas had not even advanced a rational basis for § 21.031. The state argued that § 21.031 was justified in order to save money for education costs for the state of Texas, or alternatively that it was simply applying a federal criterion for differential treatment. As to the first, Judge Justice wrote that simply saving money is not a rational justification for a law unless there is some other connection between the purpose of the law and the group affected. Here, there was no reason to think that excluding undocumented students in particular had any rational relationship to cost savings, as the overcrowding in schools was due to increased migration generally. The record did not indicate any reasons why undocumented students presented a greater cost to TISD than legally present immigrant students. As to the second, federal immigration classifications come from the federal government's authority to regulate immigration, whereas states have no comparable power. States therefore cannot simply borrow federal classifications to distinguish between people within their own borders.

The statute was also distinguished from state laws that regulate lawful and undocumented immigrants differently in the workplace: those laws serve a purpose that mirrors a federal purpose in protecting the labor market, and also make a connection between particular characteristics about undocumented workers and the subsequent effects of those characteristics on the labor market. By contrast, § 21.031 did not serve to decrease migration from Mexico overall and therefore did not serve any purpose articulated in federal immigration law, and the record did not make clear any characteristics about undocumented children that would make it reasonable for the state to refuse to educate them.

Judge Justice also found that § 21.031 was preempted by both the INA and various federal laws that emphasized the importance of public education.

Fifth Circuit appeal
Defendants appealed the case, where it was heard in front of Judges Dyer, Politz, and Johnson of the Fifth Circuit. On October 20, 1980, in an opinion by Circuit Judge Frank Johnson, the Court of Appeals affirmed that § 21.031 as applied to undocumented children was an equal protection violation but reversed the preemption finding. 628 F.2d 448. The court reemphasized that the text and logic of the Equal Protection Clause indicate that undocumented persons were meant to be included within its protections simply by virtue of being persons within the jurisdiction of the state. The court indicated that § 21.031 might be deserving of strict scrutiny, but eventually declined to decide the question, agreeing with the district court finding that the statute failed even rational basis review. The court cited a number of ways in which § 21.031 was either over- or under-inclusive in its reach, depending on the rationale advanced by the state. On the preemption claim, Congress was not found to have made definitive enough statements regarding education for undocumented children to warrant a finding of preemption.

Consolidation of related cases
At the same time as this case was ongoing, other lawsuits challenging § 21.031 were filed in the Southern, Western, and Northern Districts of Texas. These lawsuits, and specifically their claims against the state, were consolidated by the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation on November 16, 1979 under the heading In re Alien Children Education Litigation and assigned to Judge Woodrow B. Seals in the Southern District of Texas. Claims against individual schools or districts were severed and held in abeyance until the claims against the state were resolved. On January 11, 1980, the United States filed a motion to intervene in In re Alien Children Education Litigation, again taking the position that the Texas statute was unconstitutional, which the court granted. The parties agreed to have the court rule on the question of § 21.031's constitutionality, and a hearing on the merits was held from February 19 through March 27, 1980.

On July 21, 1980 (several months before the Plyler appeal was decided), Judge Seals entered an opinion and order holding that § 21.031 violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and enjoining the state from implementing it. 501 F.Supp. 544. He also certified a (b)(2) class of "all children who are over five and not over twenty-one years of age at the beginning of the scholastic year and have been or will be denied admission to the public schools in the State of Texas on a tuition-free basis because of the alienage provisions of § 21.031." Judge Seals held that the statute should be evaluated under strict scrutiny: the statute resulted in an absolute deprivation of access to education for undocumented children, and there is a direct relationship between explicitly guaranteed free speech and voting rights and the ability to access education. He distinguished the holding in Rodriguez by stating that recognizing a right of access to education when it is being provided to others does not also imply a right to equal enjoyment of education (which the Supreme Court found does not exist when it decided Rodriguez).

While appeal of this consolidated litigation was pending, the Fifth Circuit affirmed Doe v. Plyler. The Court of Appeals subsequently summarily affirmed the consolidated case opinion on February 23, 1921.

The Supreme Court noted jurisdiction in the appeal of Doe v. Plyler, 451 U.S. 968, and then, when the consolidated litigation was also appealed to the Supreme Court (under the name Texas v. Certain Named and Unnamed Undocumented Alien Children), the Court again noted jurisdiction and merged the cases for briefing and oral argument. 452 U.S. 937.

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court upheld both decisions of the Court of Appeals in full, in a 5-4 decision issued on June 15, 1982 and written by Justice Brennan. 457 U.S. 202. In particular, the court placed emphasis on idea that while differential treatment might be justifiably applied to individuals who enter the country illegally, those arguments do not apply with the same force to for minor children who come here through no action of their own. The court did not hold that undocumented immigrants are a suspect class or that education is a fundamental right, but nevertheless held that given the nature of the permanent disability and stigma lack of an education can cause, § 21.031 could not pass rational basis review unless it furthered some "substantial goal" of the State. In the context of education for minor children, undocumented status was not found to be enough of a rational basis on its own to justify the law. Other arguments regarding state funds or economic impacts due to an increase in migration were also rejected.

Legacy
Plyler suggests that states cannot institute policies which would discourage or prevent a child from enrolling in school based on immigration status, though states continue to test the boundaries of this holding. For example, a 2011 Alabama law requiring school districts to ask students about their immigration status was struck down after Alabama was sued by the Department of Justice. A "Dear Colleague" letter from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice in May 2011 reminded school administrators that they may not deny enrollment to students who are unwilling or unable to provide a Social Security number, or who provide a foreign birth certificate at the time of enrollment.

Hetali Lodaya - 07/06/2020


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Equal Protection
Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Defendant-type
Elementary/Secondary School
Discrimination-basis
Immigration status
General
Funding
Language access/needs
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Special Case Type
Multi-District Litigation (MDL)
Causes of Action Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Defendant(s) School District
Texas
Plaintiff Description Plaintiffs were undocumented minor children seeking to attend Tyler Independent School District schools.
Indexed Lawyer Organizations MALDEF
Class action status sought Yes
Class action status granted Yes
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Declaratory Judgment
Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 09/06/1977
Case Closing Year 1982
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing ED-TX-0011 : In re Alien Children Education Litigation (S.D. Tex.)
Additional Resources
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  Plyler v. Doe: The Landmark Maldef Case That Changed Education in America
MALDEF
Date: Dec. 1, 2018
By: MALDEF in History
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Public Education for Immigrant Students: Understanding Plyler v. Doe
American Immigration Counsil
Date: Oct. 24, 2016
By: American Immigration Counsil
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Interview with Mr. Larry Daves
Texas After Violence Project; Human Rights Documentation Initiative
Date: May 28, 2008
By: Texas After Violence Project (University of Texas at Austin)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

  Plyler v. Doe
Oyez
Date: Dec. 1, 1981
By: Oyez
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
E.D. Tex.
Post-Trial Brief of the United States
ED-TX-0006-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 02/07/1978
Source: Papers of Alexander (Sandy) Ross
E.D. Tex.
Memorandum Opinion (458 F.Supp. 569)
ED-TX-0006-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 09/14/1978
Source: Google Scholar
U.S. Court of Appeals
Brief for the United States as Amicus Curiae
ED-TX-0006-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 10/31/1979
Source: Papers of Alexander (Sandy) Ross
S.D. Tex.
Opinion (501 F.Supp. 544)
ED-TX-0006-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 07/21/1980
Source: Google Scholar
U.S. Court of Appeals
Opinion (628 F.2d 448)
ED-TX-0006-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 10/20/1980
Source: Google Scholar
U.S. Supreme Court
Opinion (457 U.S. 202)
ED-TX-0006-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Date: 06/15/1982
Source: Google Scholar
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Judges Blackmun, Harry Andrew (Eighth Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Brennan, William Joseph Jr. (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Burger, Warren Earl (D.C. Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Dyer, David William (S.D. Fla., Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0004
Johnson, Frank Minis Jr. (M.D. Ala., Fifth Circuit, Eleventh Circuit) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0004
Justice, William Wayne (E.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0003
Marshall, Thurgood (Second Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
O'Connor, Sandra Day (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Politz, Henry Anthony (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0004
Powell, Lewis Franklin Jr. (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Rehnquist, William Hubbs (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Seals, Woodrow Bradley (S.D. Tex.) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0006
White, Byron Raymond (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Plaintiff's Lawyers Campos, Al (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Daves, Larry R. (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0003 | ED-TX-0006-0004 | ED-TX-0006-0005
Hanten, Linda (California) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0004
Martinez, Vilma S. (California) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0004 | ED-TX-0006-0005
Mealer, Larry (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Roos, Peter D. (California) show/hide docs
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Swanson, Jane Kathryn (Texas) show/hide docs
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Wise, Michael B. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0003
Defendant's Lawyers Arnett, Richard L (Texas) show/hide docs
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Dasher, Susan J (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0004
Fainter, John W (Texas) show/hide docs
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Gray, Richard Edwin III (Texas) show/hide docs
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Hardy, John C. III (Texas) show/hide docs
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White, Mark (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Other Lawyers Cichowski, Carol A (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0004
Cooney, John F. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Cooper, Timothy (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0004
Crump, David (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Days, Drew S. III (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0001 | ED-TX-0006-0004
Determan, Sarah Ann (Texas) show/hide docs
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Frels, Kelly (Texas) show/hide docs
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Fuchs, Fred (Texas) show/hide docs
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Gregory, Gwendolyn (Delaware) show/hide docs
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Griffin, Thomas (California) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Gross, Mark L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0001 | ED-TX-0006-0004
Guajardo, Antonio (Texas) show/hide docs
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Hannah, John H. Jr. (Texas) show/hide docs
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Hannum, Hurst (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Kenney, Robert J (Texas) show/hide docs
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Kneedler, Edwin S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Landsberg, Brian K. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Lee, Bill Lann (New York) show/hide docs
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Lee, Rex E. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
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Marcus, Daniel (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Marzulla, Roger J (California) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Miller, Joyce D. (New Jersey) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Miller, Maxwell (California) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Orlow, James (Pennsylvania) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Rabinove, Samuel (New York) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Reynolds, William Bradford (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Rich, Joseph D. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0002
Ross, Alexander C. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0002
Ryerson, Paul S (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0004
Sandmann, Peter B. (California) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Shannon, Thomas A (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Silver, Jessica Dunsay (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0001 | ED-TX-0006-0004
Steinhilber, August W (Virginia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Suarez, Michael K (Texas) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005
Zengerle, Joseph C (Virginia) show/hide docs
ED-TX-0006-0005

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