"Equality of Opportunity and the Schoolhouse Gate"

Michigan Law Authors
Publish Date
2019
Publication
Yale Law Journal
Publication Type
Book Review
Abstract

Public schools have generated some of the most far-reaching cases to come before the Supreme Court. They have involved nearly every major civil right and liberty found in the Bill of Rights. The cases are often reflections of larger societal ills and anxieties, from segregation and immigration to religion and civil discourse over war. In that respect, they go to the core of the nation’s values. Yet constitutional law scholars have largely ignored education law as a distinct area of study and importance.

Justin Driver’s book cures that shortcoming, offering a three-dimensional view of how the Court’s education law jurisprudence has evolved over the past century. The Court, once loath to intervene in school affairs, increasingly recognized that students’ constitutional rights do not end at the schoolhouse gate. But that extension has not been without limitations, pause, or controversy. Driver vividly narrates both the Court’s internal conversations and those occurring in broader society. Most importantly, Driver helps the reader see how the Court’s decisions were not preordained, could have gone a number of different ways, and heavily influenced the history that followed.

This Book Review, however, argues that no account of the Court’s education precedent is complete without a detailed examination of how the Court’s decisions have affected equal opportunity. The attempt to ensure equal educational opportunity is ultimately the tie that binds so much of the Court’s precedent. Unfortunately, the Court’s doctrine on this score has not been one of consistent expansion. In fact, too often the Court has limited students’ rights and, thus, the educational opportunities they receive. This failure is clearest in two areas: those cases implicating a constitutional right to education and school desegregation.

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