“In the Rodriguez case, Demetrio Rodriguez and six other parents of children who attended school in the poor, overwhelmingly Mexican American Edgewood section of San Antonio filed suit in federal court arguing that the Texas funding system violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” (Sracic 1)
The question would arise as to how best to equalize education. The well off would be protected by laws that ensure the rich to maintain their wealth. However the indigent poor would be at the mercy of historically racist state policies, ex. Jim Crow.
In Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) the Supreme Court ruled that laws attempting to ban private education was a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Again reiterating that the amendment which called for the citizenship of black people, in the wake of the Civil War, would be used, ironically, for those who have never endured discrimination and injustice.
In Cummings v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge by a group of African American parents in Georgia when the school board cut off funds for a segregated black high school. The Court decided in favor of the school board. Curiously enough the author of the Court’s opinion in Cummings, Justice John Marshall Harlan, had three years earlier authored a famous dissent in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Justice Harlan claimed that the Constitution is color-blind and that the Louisiana statute was based “on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens.” (Scracic 9) It would seem that along with legislation such as Jim Crow, Supreme Court justices would hold onto antiquated perspectives on race. And strangely enough would open lanes for whites to use an amendment created to help people of color, whom have been historically disenfranchised.
One way that states got around mandatory laws (de jure) and enforcing Supreme Court rulings such as Brown V. Board, was to allow gerrymandering and redistricting (de facto), making it impossible for people of color to collectively escape poverty. “Although there was no Texas law that said Mexican Americans could not attend the same schools as white students, school district lines were drawn around existing neighborhoods; since neighborhoods were (effectively though not legally) segregated, so were the schools.” (Sracic 10) In addition Deed restrictions in many areas prevented houses being sold to Mexican Americans, African Americans, or Native Americans, including those of mixed race.
Miraculously these Mexican- AMERICANS would organize like many ethnic groups in this great country, to better the situation for their people and create a better America. “In 1929, Texan attorney Alonso Perales formed the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) to focus on civil rights concerns including the problem of education.” The GI Forum was also established in 1948 and their motto was “education is freedom and freedom should be everyone’s business.” (Sracic 12)
And in 1968 the Mexican American civil right organization, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) was formed by Pete Tijerina, a lawyer who worked for LULAC. This organization was similar to that of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
In search of a solution to the penniless budgets of predominately Mexican American districts, the groups came up with The Minimum Foundation Program, where a base number of dollars would be established and plans made to close the education gap. The effort to bridge the gap was well intended but a band-aid nonetheless.
In Serrano v. Priest the California Supreme Court had declared that state’s school financing systems to be inconsistent with the demands of both the federal and situational infirmity was the direct result of California justices, this dual constitutional infirmity was the direct result of California making “the quality of a child’s education depend upon the resources of his school district and ultimately upon the pocketbook of his parents.” Since this was nearly identical to the issue raised in Rodriguez, it made sense for Greider [journalist] to search for a precedent in the former. This led him to an individual who played a critical role in all of the early school funding litigation: John E. Coons, who was at the time a law professor at the University at California at Berkeley. (Sracic 17)
“Whether a student attended a well-funded school was to a large degree dependent on the property wealth of the district in which he or she resided. This was a form of inequality, he [Professor Coons] thought, that might have constitutional significance.” (Sracic 17)
In McInnis v. Shapiro, 1968, Illinois district court ruled against a group of Cook County students who had argued that the Illinois school funding system violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Students in Edgewood, Texas took action on May 16, 1968, as 400 students at Edgewood High School decided to stage a walk-out. Demetrio Rodriguez for who the case was named, was a parent, member of the GI Forum as well as LULAC. He with 5 other parents processed the suit. “Although Edgewood had the highest property tax rate in the San Antonio area, the district had only been able to raise about $26 per student. In the nearby community of Alamo Heights, a much lower tax rate yielded $333 per student. (Sracic 22)
In Hobson v. Hansen (1967), Judge Wright ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Hobson, issuing an injunction that barred the District of Columbia from engaging in either racial or economic discrimination and ordering the district to integrate in schools and to dismantle both the track system and the optional district provision that had exacerbated segregation. Gochman, representing the parents of Edgewood, was interested in Wright’s opinion because of the way in which Judge had combined the notions of racial and economic discrimination. Judge Berger dissented in the case. (Sracic 26)
“Powell’s opinion in Rodruguez helped to construct boundaries regarding the Fourteenth Amendment that remain in place to this day.
Together, the strict scrutiny and rational basis test form the two tiers of scrutiny available to those, like the plaintiffs in Rodriguez, who would bring challenges under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The two- tier approach also governs some decisions under the Fifth Amendment since—following its decision in Bolling v. Sharpe (1954)—the Supreme Court has recognized an equal protection component within the Due Process Clause of the amendment. (Sracic 32)
Justice William Douglas, writing for the Court in the 1966 case of Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, suggested that ‘lines drawn on the basis of wealth or poverty, like those of race, are traditionally disfavored.’ Toward the end of his tenure as chief justice, Earl Warren had relied on Harper when he concluded in McDonald v. Board of Election Commissioners of Chicago (1969) that classifications based on wealth or race were ‘highly suspect’. (Sracic 34)
Gochman explained to the court ‘that under the Fourteenth Amendment the courts will tolerate differences relating to people that are in the same category, historically, but that the courts will not tolerate differences where there has been historical discrimination as stated in Hobson v. Hansen, that the courts will look closely at discrimination if it involves the poor or minority groups.” (Sracic 38)
In McInnis v. Shapiro (1968) students from Cook County, Illinois, brought a suit against Governor Shapiro. The students claimed that the education funding laws in Illinois violated the Fourteenth Amendment “because they [permitted] wide variations in the expenditures per student from district to district, thereby providing some students with a good education and depriving others, who have equal or greater educational need.” On November 15, 1968, a three judge district court ruled unanimously against the students. If Gochman expected to win in district court, he would have to be able to distinguish Rodriguez from McInnis. The fact that, unlike Hobson, McInnis did not involve a racial element might be crucial. (Sracic 38-39)
Unanimously, the judges decided that the Texas school funding system violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Sracic 60) This most likely had to do with the fact that race and class were determinate factors
Justice Powell, who worked in Virginia and had a comprehensive background in educational politics both local and state, was the “education justice” on the bench when the appeal was filed, and he would take a special interest in the case, hiring many law clerks and keeping them abreast with frequent memos regarding his perspective.
Charles Allen Wright would argue the appeal for the State of Texas and the city of San Antonio.
In Bullock v. Carter (1972) Bullock was a challenge to a Texas law that required a substantial filing fee to be paid by candidates seeking to have their name placed on a ballot in that state. This law was found to discriminate against those who were poor to pay the fee, and the Court used a version of the strict scrutiny standard to overturn the requirement. (Sracic 82) However in the Edgewood case it was harder to illustrate the complex web of institutional racism that lead to a district of poor, under-represented Mexican Americans. To make a court decision was going to be difficult. With regard to Rodriguez Justice Berger ended his summary with an interesting confession: He claimed that he would support a constitutional amendment that would achieve the result reached by the three-judge court in Texas. Without that amendment, however, he thought the Constitution simply did not address the issue of school funding. (Sracic 93)
Justice Byron White, from Colorado, a former Rhodes Scholar, and winner of Heisman trophy in football claimed: “Rather than demanding absolute equality in funding, White thought that the Court should be clear in endorsing a system like district power equalizing that would not mandate equality but would free up districts that wanted to provide more for their students.” (Sracic 95) a sort of opportunity for community agency and not futile discriminatory policies.
Powell explained that although he had ‘no doubts about the importance of education—especially in a democracy,” education was ‘not guaranteed’ by the Constitution. (Sracic 96)
“Rehnquist explained that the accepted history of the Equal Protection Clause was that it was only intended to eliminate discrimination based on race.” (Sracic 98) and not wealth, no matter how mutually constitutive the two were.
March 21, 1973, Powell in majority opinion stated: We disagree with the District Court, and reverse its judgment.” (Sracic 110)
Powell brought up Brown v. Board of Education as a possible precedent for a different outcome. Although the Court was surely right to order desegregation, said Powell, there are—there have to be—stopping points.” Rodriguez was that stopping point. (Sracic 113) Arguably because Brown V. Board did not overtly called for a redistribution of funds, rather access to a historically disenfranchised group.
Powell’s finding that the right to an education was neither ‘explicitly or implicitly’ protected by the constitution, coupled with his earlier determination that Texas had not created a suspect classification, meant that the proper test to be applied to Rodriguez was the rational basis standard. (Sracic)
“Powell’s background on the Richmond School Board played into his analysis. He concluded from his own experience that local control over the schools was real and not a ‘mere sham’ as Justice Marshall [Thurgood] had asserted in his dissenting opinion.” (Sracic 116)
In dissent was Brennan, Marshall, White, Douglass
In approval was Powell, Rehnquist, Stewart, Chief Berger, Blackmun
Marshall claimed “wealth was as immutable as race; also, the poverty into which children were born—through no fault of their own—closely resembled the hardships and stigma faced by illegitimate children recognized in Powell’s opinion in Aetna v. Weber Casualty and Surety Company (1972). Furthermore, Marshall wrote ‘it is the State that has created the local school districts, and tied educational funding to the local property tax and thereby local district wealth.” (Sracic 121)
San Antonio v. Rodriguez: The Pursuit of Equal Education, The Debate Over Discrimination and School Funding by Paul A. Sracic published by University Press of Kansas 2006