Meyer v. Nebraska: The Court’s Ruling

2012-10-09 21:40:48 by admin

Meyer v. Nebraska

Meyer v. Nebraska: Facts of the Case

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed Meyer’s criminal conviction. In effect, the Court found two separate but related liberty clause claims, that of Meyer to practice his occupation of teaching and that of the parents to engage Meyer as the teacher for their children. While the Court recognized that a state’s police power includes the physical, mental, and moral improvement of its citizens, it observed that protection under the U.S. Constitution extends to those who speak other languages as well as to those born with English as their native tongue. Although the Court acknowledged that the State of Nebraska framed its concern for a homogeneous people by a post–World War I aversion “toward every character of truculent adversaries” (p. 402), it nonetheless held that the state’s chosen statutory means to accomplish its purpose, infringing on the Liberty Clause rights of the teacher and the parents, exceeded its police power.

The Supreme Court later cited Meyer as a precedent in Pierce v. Society of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary and Wisconsin v. Yoder for its recognition of the Liberty Clause right of parents to direct their children’s education. However, the Court also quoted Meyer for its statement regarding the Tenth Amendment’s implied power of states to regulate education. In Meyer, the Court expressed the view in dictum that

the power of the state to compel attendance at some school and to make reasonable regulations for all schools, including a requirement that they shall give instructions in English, is not questioned. Nor has challenge been made of the state’s power to prescribe a curriculum for institutions which it supports.

In post–Wisconsin v. Yoder litigation, states sought to impose the same curricular and teacher qualification regulations on nonpublic schools that applied to their public school counterparts, thereby compelling state and federal courts to consider whether state regulations that satisfied the Meyer reasonableness standard could counter parent and private school liberty and free exercise claims. The results of the litigation varied, with some courts thinking that the reasonableness standard was sufficient to offset parental and school constitutional claims, while others added that states needed to demonstrate a higher compelling interest against these claims. By the end of the 20th century, though, most states had resolved the conflict by exempting nonpublic schools from many of the more onerous regulations at issue.