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Plyler v. Doe
Argued December 1, 1981
Decided June 15, 1982
Full case nameJames Plyler, Superintendent, Tyler Independent School District, et al. v. John Doe, et al.
Citations457 U.S. 202 (more)
102 S. Ct. 2382; 72 L. Ed. 2d 786; 1982 U.S. LEXIS 124; 50 U.S.L.W. 4650
Case history
PriorJudgment for plaintiffs, 458 F. Supp. 569 (E.D. Tex. 1978); affirmed, 628 F.2d 448 (5th Cir. 1980)
SubsequentRehearing denied, 458 U.S. 1131 (1982)
Denial of public education to students not legally admitted into the country violates the Equal Protection Clause. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityBrennan, joined by Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens
DissentBurger, joined by White, Rehnquist, O'Connor
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Tex. Educ. Code Ann. § 21.031

Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982), was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States struck down both a state statute denying funding for education to undocumented immigrant children in the United States and a municipal school district's attempt to charge an annual $1,000 tuition fee for each student to compensate for lost state funding.[1] The Court found that any state restriction imposed on the rights afforded to children based on their immigration status must be examined under an rational basis standard to determine whether it furthers a substantial government interest.

The application of Plyler v. Doe has been limited to K-12 schooling. Other cases and legislation such as Toll v. Moreno 441 U.S. 458 (1979) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996[2] have allowed some states to pass statutes that deny undocumented immigrant students eligibility for in-state tuition, scholarships, or enrollment at public colleges and universities.[3][4][5]


Revisions to education laws in Texas in 1975 withheld state funds for educating children who had not been legally admitted to the United States and authorized local school districts to deny enrollment to such students. A 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court found the policy to violate the Fourteenth Amendment, as undocumented immigrant children are people "in any ordinary sense of the term" and therefore had protection from discrimination unless a substantial state interest could be shown to justify it.

The court majority found that the Texas law was "directed against children, and impose[d] its discriminatory burden on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children can have little control",[6] the fact that they had been brought illegally into the United States by their parents. The majority also observed that denying the children in question a proper education would likely contribute to "the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime".[7] The majority refused to accept that any substantial state interest would be served by discrimination on that basis and so struck down the Texas law.

Texas officials had argued that undocumented immigrants were not "within the jurisdiction" of the state and thus could not claim protections under the Fourteenth Amendment. The court majority rejected that claim but found that "no plausible distinction with respect to Fourteenth Amendment 'jurisdiction' can be drawn between resident immigrants whose entry into the United States was lawful, and resident immigrants whose entry was unlawful." The dissenting opinion also rejected that claim and agreed with the Court that "the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to immigrants who, after their illegal entry into this country, are indeed physically 'within the jurisdiction' of a state." The dissent simply concluded that the distinction the statute drew should survive an equal protection attack.


The dissent agreed in principle that it was unwise for undocumented immigrant children to be denied a public education, but the four dissenting justices argued that the Texas law was not so objectionable as to be unconstitutional; that the issue ought to be dealt with through the legislative process; that "[t]he Constitution does not provide a cure for every social ill, nor does it vest judges with a mandate to try to remedy every social problem;" and that the majority was overstepping its bounds by seeking "to do Congress' job for it, compensating for congressional inaction".

This case was decided together with Texas v. Certain Named and Unnamed Alien Children.

See also


  1. ^ "Court considers education for illegal immigrant children". The Telegraph (a newspaper in Nashua, New Hampshire). Associated Press. 1 December 1981.
  2. ^ "Financial Aid and Scholarships for Undocumented Students".
  3. ^ "College Board wants more help for illegal immigrants". Tysons Corner, VA: Gannett. July 22, 2009. ISSN 0734-7456. Archived from the original on April 15, 2014. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  4. ^ Russell, Alene (August 2007). "In-State Tuition for Undocumented Immigrants: States' Rights and Educational Opportunity" (pdf). American Association of State Colleges and Universities. p. 2.
  5. ^ "The 25th Anniversary of Plyler v. Doe: Access to Education and Undocumented Children". University of California at Berkeley: Berkeley Law. 7 May 2007. Archived from the original on 15 July 2010.
  6. ^ "Plyler v. Doe". FindLaw. United States Supreme Court. Retrieved 24 July 2019.
  7. ^ "Plyler v. Doe". FindLaw. United States Supreme Court. Retrieved 24 July 2019.

Further reading