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Children & the Law
University of Mississippi School of Law
Davis, Samuel M.

Children in the Legal System – Fall 2007
Professor Samuel Davis
Chapter 1 – Allocating Power over Children: Parental Rights and State Authority
(3 main cases that build on each other)
Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923).
       14th Amendment – Substantive due process – established right to acquire useful knowledge
o        State enacted a statute that prohibited the teaching of any non-English language.
o        Criminal case dealing with teacher who taught German to a younger student than 8th grade (at the time this statute was created was around WWI so anti-German).
       UNCONSTITUTIONAL statute that only allowed teaching of foreign languages after the 8th grade
       Test: Emergency has arisen which renders knowledge by a child of some language other  than English so clearly harmful as to justify its inhibition, with the consequent infringement of rights long freely enjoyed
       Deprived of liberty in the 14th Amendment of the Due Process Clause
o        Method of analysis of Supreme Court: 
§         Balancing test between state’s interest and the individual’s interest
·         STATE Interest: Having an educated citizenry
·         Does the law further the state’s interest?
o        Actually impedes upon this interest because to learn a foreign language is to start at an early age; so what was the purpose of the statute? Anti-German sematics from WWI seems to be the underline causes
·         INDIVIDUAL Interest: Right to teach and the right of parents to engage the teacher to instruct are within the liberty part of the due process clause (conflicts with liberties of teachers, parents, students)
o        The State may require a child to get an education and set the curriculum. 
o        However, the statute had no reasonable relation to the state’s interest in education by its affect on the health, morals, or understanding of a child. 
o        Parents have a right to raise their children in a way they see fit and direct their education. 
o        The state has parens patriae authority to ensure children are not the victim of poverty or neglect. 
o        The state as parens patriae may restrict the parents control by requiring school attendance at SOME schools, making reasonable regulations for ALL schools, regulating child labor, etc
Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925).
       14th Amendment Substantive Due Process – Established right of parents to direct their children’s education in public or private institutions
       FACTS: Oregon passed a law requiring children to attend public school and public school only
       UNCONSTITUTIONAL statute that forces attendance to public schools for certain aged children in their residing district and a parent failing to do so will be prosecuted.
o        Under 14th amendment – Liberties, parents, children and teachers are impeded because conflicts with rights of parents to choose schools where their children will receive appropriate mental and religious training, right of child to influence parents’s choices of which school to attend, and teachers and schools because of business reasons such as loss of income from private schools
§         Under 14th amendment, property is also impeded because of the established private schools
§         Same test as in Meyer and declared statute unconstitutional
o        State’s power in dealing with Schools (as established in Pierce):
§         Reasonably regulate all schools
§         Inspect, supervise, and examine them, their teachers and students
§         Require that all children attend some school
§         Require that teachers be of good moral character and patriotic dipostions
§         Require that certain studies be taught
§         Require that nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare
o        Meyer and Pierce represent the first statements by the US Supreme Court that the authority of parents to rear their children as they see fit is constitutionally protected.
Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 1

8th grade.
       Court develops a three pronged test for determining whether
o        1) Is belief sincerely held?
§         Amish have been around for 300 years as a religious sect. They have a history of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Their religious beliefs are inextricably intertwined with their way of life.
o        2) Does statute impose undue burden on free exercise of religion?
§         Religious belief is a way of life for these people. After the 8th grade there is too much in the high school influencing the children. The Amish view this as very threatening: spots, rock music, proms, name brand clothing. Young people will leave the faith.
o        3) Do state’s interests significantly outweigh the individual interests?
§         There is a Jeffersonian ideal of universal education. An educated citizenry is necessary in a participatory democracy. But is the state’s interest so much that it will outweigh the Amish interest. Court says no. Court comes down on the side of the individuals. The state’s interest is already being served. The Amish are already self-sufficient and self-reliant. These people will not become a burden to the state.
o        The religious showing is one that very few religious sects could show / make. It pretty much only applies to the Amish.
o        Douglas’ Dissent – No one has asked the children what their beliefs are, they have only asked the parents. Wants to look at what the children believe. He agrees with court on Yoder, but not the other 2 Δs. P.28, 1st full paragraph. Sounds like mature minor doctrine – really comes out in the abortion cases later on.