WE THE PEOPLE

I.

When Kingman Brewster died it fell to Sam Chauncey to figure out how he should be buried.  Sam “slung a low, unadorned black marble wall around the grave” at the Grove Street cemetery in New Haven where all Presidents of Yale rest and chiseled into it a thought to encapsulate Brewster’s life:

The presumption of innocence is not just a legal concept.  In common place terms it rests on that generosity of spirit which assumes the best, not the worst of the stranger. (1)

II.

In 1749, A West African boy, nine years old and captured, sailed the middle passage to Virginia and survived.  In August of that year, a Scottish born merchant slave trader peered into the pluck of that nine year old and bought him.  Stewart, with a generosity of spirit assuming the best of a young African stranger, took Somerset as his personal slave.

Twenty years pass, it’s 1769, Stewart, now 44, takes Somerset, now 29, with him to London to help care for his sister and her family when her husband dies. 

Somerset, runs errands everywhere for Stewart in a London awash with Africans from the British Empire:  meets blacks on the streets, in the stores, along the docks … plots freedom:  arranges a baptism, acquires English godparents and on October 1, 1771 flows into London’s stream of Insurgent Runaway Slaves.  

Stewart feeling “betrayed and publicly insulted,” posted notices and on November 2, slave catchers deliver Somerset to a ship bound for Jamaica.  Seven days later, Somerset’s Godmother, Elisabeth Cade, pays to petition the Court of Kings bench for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to release him.

Lord Mansfield, the Chief Justice, requires Captain Knowles to explain the reason for detaining Somerset on the Anne & Mary.  Six days later, Somerset appears before the King’s bench with Captain Knowles, who declares: Charles Stewart, a colonial from America, delivered his slave, James Somerset, to be sold in Jamaica.

Lord Mansfield releases Somerset pending a hearing, suggesting he be set free.  But West Indian planters want a decision upholding slavery in Britain to stabilize the commodities markets.  

Lord Mansfield cautions them, “if they think (a) question of great commercial concern is the only method of settling the point in the future, they should prepare an application to Parliament.” (2) Parliament refused the merchants a hearing.  

On June 22, 1772, while the clerk calls the case of “James Somerset, a Negro on Habeas Corpus,” Lord Mansfield, bewigged, the chief justice of the oldest and highest court in England, mounts the bench and delivers his judgment:

The state of slavery is of such a nature that it is incapable of being introduced on any reasons, moral or political … it’s so odious, that nothing can be suffered to support it but positive law.  Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.  (3)

III.

So what happened to Stewart’s generosity of spirit?  Almost two hundred years pass and the matter at the heart of that matter resurfaces in a provocative message James Baldwin delivered to the Nation in 1963, crafted as a letter to his brother’s son.

… the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen […] that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.  One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death [….] But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent.  It is the innocence which constitutes the crime. (4)

Stewart, a British colonial, enjoyed in Somerset the luxury of an innocent Master-Slave relationship, one in which both persons thrived, or so it seemed, or so Stewart pretended.  Pretense vanished as soon as he fetched slave-catchers and innocence was criminalized.

IV.  

Two hundred and thirty-four years pass: in the December 2006 oral arguments of Parents involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District:

Justice Scalia interrupted counsel for the school district to ask whether this “area of the law … doesn’t have some absolute restrictions.” Counsel noted … the First and Fourth Amendments have considerable flexibility.  Whereupon Scalia pounced:  “What about the Fourteenth?  I thought that was one of the absolute restrictions, that you cannot judge and classify people on the basis of their race.  You can pursue the [Integrationist] objectives that your school board is pursuing, but at some point you come up against an absolute, and aren’t you just denying that? (5)

That was Lord Mansfield’s point.   Stewart had come up against an absolute.  That the state of slavery is so odious that nothing can be suffered to support it but constitutional law. But, if all Americans have is constitutional law, are Seattle’s school children Constitutional People?  And if so is their education a core constitutional concept to be protected like life, liberty and property?  Does “No Education No Life,” confronted with Scalia’s absolute, just collapse?

With respect to Scalia and the Fourteenth Amendment, Lawrence Tribe invokes the line of thought thrown out by the legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin:

That the relevant inquiry is not what the original drafters and ratifiers of the 14th Amendment imagined or even expected the concept they wrote into the constitution would come to require, but what concept they intended to enshrine by the language they used and what that concept, rightly understood, has come to demand. (6)

A line of thought we can surely put to the constitution as a whole.

V.

Given that we now live in Einstein’s conceptual framework in which there is no universal Time-Line on which one can map the constellations that scientists observe with their instruments, and given that Space-Time itself is a Route-Dependent concept, why gravitate to Newton’s conceptual framework?  Why posit a universal fixed Constitutional Time anchored in a written visible constitutional text?

Consider the Preamble:  A simple declarative sentence, it has:

A subject:  We the People of the United States

A present tense active verb:  Do ordain and establish

An object:  This constitution for the United States of America

A straight forward, simple, visible written constitutional text. (7)

However, as soon as we ask, “What was the reach of “We the People” in 1787 and how has that reach expanded and contracted over the past two hundred and thirty years?” we enter into its crucial Route-Dependent constitutional history.

There is a history of centripetal forces: E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many One.  A 19th Century “We the People” field of gravity welcoming the English, the Irish, the Germans and the Swedes.  But there is also a history of centrifugal forces: the obliteration of Native Americans, the enslavement of Africans, the exclusion of Chinese, the restrictions on Italians.  As Faulkner put it, “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.”  (8) Reflect that the Preamble’s first “We the People class” were Undocumented Propertied White Men.  We can play “Innocence” if we want, but the question remains, what does the Preamble have to do with 11 million undocumented people who, like their constitutional ancestors, take this geography as their home?

VI.

“We the People?” asked Patrick Henry at the Virginia convention to ratify the new Constitution in 1788.  “Who authorized them to speak the language of We, the people, instead of, We, the states?” “…May they not pronounce all slaves free, and will they not be warranted by the power of manumission?” (9) 

The 1787 constitution established the nation’s first class of Constitutional People:  Undocumented propertied white men.  But a nation which self-advertised and self-promoted its constitution as a government of laws, and not men, did not self-advertise and self-promote its need to have a constitution for a Slave Nation. 

“As it is…we have the wolf by the ear and we can neither hold him nor safely let him go …  Justice is in one scale and Self-Preservation in the other.” (10)  So Thomas Jefferson wrote to representative John Holmes of Maine, on April 22, 1820. Constitutional People at the 1787 Convention, opting for Self-Preservation over Justice, enshrined “The Wolf of Slavery” into a “Somerset Clause”:  Article IV, Section 2, Paragraph 3: Africans as Constitutional Property.  (11)

VII.

 “Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention…. If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could better judge what to do, and how to do it.” (12) Abraham Lincoln addressed an Illinois 1858 Republican convention, haunted, three decades later, by the wolf of slavery and the fundamental question for which Lincoln had no “We” in the 19th century and for which the nation searches still in the 21st:  Whose lives matter?

The Somerset Clause set into motion Young People’s Projects, insurgent Africans in their twenties, teenagers even, plotting and excavating phase changes from Constitutional Property to Constitutional People.   It spawned young Somersets, Insurgent Runaway Slaves, who ignited centrifugal insurgencies that metastasized in the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, pulling the nation apart.

On the one hand, for Southern propertied white men, The Fugitive Slave Act enhanced core constitutional values: life, liberty and property.  Even Southern apostles of states’ rights championed the extension of federal jurisdiction to protect their property rights north of the Mason-Dixon Line.  

On the other hand, for ordinary people, it diminished their constitutional standing, turned them into slave-catchers — deputized citizens, even against their will — forced to take part in a posse to seize fugitive slaves. Black Chicago abolitionists created a vigilance committee consisting of a black police force of seven divisions; each division had six persons who were to patrol the city each night to watch for slave catchers. The city’s government formally denounced the Fugitive Slave Act as unconstitutional and nonbinding … and resolved that it would not require the police to assist in the arrest of fugitive slaves. (13)

Centripetal constitutional forces like the 1787 Preamble, that bound the nation together, couldn’t hold. The reign of Undocumented propertied White Men came crashing down. The centrifugal forces hidden within the innocent looking Somerset clause tore that first class of Constitutional People asunder.  A President … any President … had no “We.”

The white supremacy concept enshrined in the Somerset Clause, Africans as Constitutional Property, rightly understood, had, over a constitutional era that spanned three-quarters of a century, come to demand nothing less than Civil War:  Constitutional People waged war over Constitutional Property, one of them assassinated President Lincoln: collateral damage of the crime of innocence.

the curtain on the nation’s first constitutional era rang down.

VIII.

Roughly one century later, in March of 1963, a Field Secretary for SNCC, I was on the witness stand in the Greenville Mississippi Federal District Court.  John Kennedy was President still and his brother Robert the Attorney General.  

A few months earlier, Jimmy Travis, Randolph Blackwell and myself had been greased gunned by terrorists on the highway outside of Greenwood. Jimmy, driving, caught a bullet in his neck. 

In response SNCC converged on Greenwood, raised food from Chicago and insisted that families needing food join the right to vote insurgency, march with SNCC to the Courthouse and attempt to register; Greenwood Police arrested and jailed eight SNCC field secretaries. Burke Marshall, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, filed suit in federal court against the City of Greenwood and sent John Doar to be our lawyer. 

From the witness stand I stared at the sharecroppers bussed in from Greenwood while attending to Judge Clayton’s question: “Why is SNCC taking illiterates down to register to vote?”  Lacking a historical perspective, I thought it a question of “fairness”:  the Nation couldn’t have its cake and eat it too: It couldn’t use politics to deny Black people access to literacy and then turn around and say they couldn’t do politics because they’re illiterate.  

Looking back across 50 years, SNCC field secretaries enshrined in their minds a concept of National Constitutional People.  Freedom Riders passing through Alabama were not thinking, “We’re citizens of Alabama; woe is us!”  They were thinking, “We’re citizens of the nation and it means something.”  The same goes for the Mississippi sharecroppers demanding the vote and the Fannie Lou Hamer, Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegates demanding to be seated at the 1964 Atlantic City Democratic National Convention.

Americans have the Constitution.  But do we have Constitutional People?  And, if so, what concepts are enshrined in the Constitution to ensure “the dignity of the human person and the flourishing of Humane aspirations?”

The entire Civil Rights Movement focused on Education, Voting Rights and access to Public Accommodations.  Does it stagger the mind to understand that only in the sphere of access to Public Accommodations regardless of race was the nation able to elevate a concept of Constitutional Personhood that gained widespread constitutional and public acceptance?  

Baldwin got it right.  The authors of devastation are not permitted innocence.  It is the innocence which constitutes the crime. And then there is the inescapable collateral damage.  Looking back 150 years to Mississippi in 1875, collateral damage took the form of widespread terrorism and murder, whites murdering blacks, Democrats murdering Republicans. 

Alexander Percy, the public face of innocence, oversaw the fruits of devastation — a new Democratic legislature (in the State of Mississippi) — to impeach the Republican Governor Adelbert Ames from Maine, put into office by black votes after passage of the 15th amendment in 1870.  Percy also took funds allocated for the education of the freed slaves and reallocated them to the creation of infrastructure:  the building of the vine-like network of railroads needed to crisscross the Mississippi Delta to capitalize a cotton plantation economy for an area of land larger than the State of “Connecticut where panthers and bears prowled the cane breaks, where even General Grant’s union army could not penetrate.” President Grant had sealed the deal.  Ohio had not ratified the 15th Amendment and Republicans sent a delegation to the White House asking Grant not to send troops to Mississippi lest Hayes be defeated in his bid to be Governor.  Grant acquiesced, but later admitted to acting like the head of the Republican Party rather than the President of the nation.  In the 1876 Presidential election the Mississippi terror was exported across the South leading to the Hayes-Tilden stand-off and the agreement that the Republican Hayes take the Presidency in return for the withdrawal of troops from the old Confederacy.  (14)

IX.

There is what the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments had come to demand after the Civil War. The 1883 Supreme Court said “States-Rights” and the 1896 Supreme Court said “Separate but Equal,” both of which manifested in Jim Crow and “Sharecropper education.”

“Sharecropper education,” the subtext of the SNCC Mississippi voting rights insurgency, decrees for students, at its best, an education suited to their pre-assigned work.  At its worst?  Well there is Circular 3591 issued by Attorney General Francis Biddell on December 12, 1941.  President Roosevelt, blindsided by the Japanese December 7th attack on Pearl Harbor, suddenly needed to upgrade the status of young black men from convict-leasing victims to soldiers in the U.S. military.  For the duration of the war at least, the lives of young black men mattered … somewhat. (15)

Then, after WW II there is what the Civil War Amendments had come to demand of returning black soldiers and the young black students who launched the sit-in movement.  SNCC Mississippi field secretaries, fighting a low-grade guerrilla voting rights insurgency against all odds, inspired the Justice Department to change its strategy: Instead of filing suits against individual registrars, it filed suits against the State of Mississippi and Louisiana.  

Judge Wisdom of the 5th circuit handed down the decision in U.S. vs. Louisiana on December 31, 1963, just over a month after President Kennedy’s assassination.  In a treatise on the history of Louisiana during the 2nd constitutional era, Wisdom documented how the National Democratic Party sheltered in its Southern Wing, the political manifestation of White Supremacy for three quarters of a century.  (16)

In the first “constitutional era” young black men were not incarcerated.  Why would you incarcerate the property you insure and mortgage and put to work? In the second “constitutional era” under states rights and Jim Crow, African-Americans provided what amounted to free labor for cotton plantations, thousands of black men were routinely lynched and tens of thousands rounded up, charged with vagrancy and poorness then leased out to work the mines that powered the nation’s industrial economy — until Circular 3591 and President Roosevelt’s revelation that Black men were needed to fight a war.

The assassination of President Kennedy, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the southern white supremacists’ wholesale transfer from the Democrat to the Republican Party after the MFDP 1964 Democratic National Convention challenge, mark the closing of the 2nd Constitutional era, which, like the first, spanned some three-quarters of a century.  

X.

So here we are in the 21st century well into our third “constitutional era,” wrestling still with Dworkin’s line of thought:  what concept did they intend to enshrine with the Civil War amendments and what that concept, rightly understood, has come to demand.”  

Writing just a decade ago in 2006, Tribe looked back 50 years to Brown v Board of education and the thoughts of Justice Charles Black:

The concept they intended to enshrine in the Civil War Amendments was that the subordination of one race by another through the force of law was to be forbidden, and ideal which entailed an end to the forced separation of African American students from white students in public schools once it became plain to us, as perhaps it had been less plain to our forbearers, that the social meaning of such forced separation could only be the subordination of African American students on the basis that they were not “good enough” to mix with their white counterparts. (17)

Fourteen years after Brown, in 1968, as the nation transitioned into its third constitutional era, 400 Mexican American High School students walked out of school and marched on the San Antonio school board demanding better facilities and more teachers.  Their mothers took it to court where it emerged as the 1973 Supreme Court case: San Antonio v Rodriguez.  Chief Justice Powell wrote the decision announcing that it was useless to come to the Federal Courts for equity relief, as there is no substantive constitutional right to an education. (18)

The legal profession retreated into a state-by-state pursuit of educational equity.  There are currently at least 45 cases in 45 states.  In N.Y. State the campaign for fiscal equity filed suit in 1994 and won a decision from Federal District Judge DeGrasse, who said the state should give more money to N.Y. City.  

Pataki, the Republican governor, appealed.  A four judge panel reversed the district court saying the New York State constitution required the state to adequately educate its students to be able to serve on juries and vote, and an 8th grade education was sufficient to meet that standard, which N.Y. city was already doing and so additional funding was not needed.  Moreover Judge Lerner stated that there were alot of low-skill jobs in the city and students who would end up in those jobs also didn’t need more than an 8th grade education.  Thus did Sharecropper education which offers students at best the education appropriate for the work which they have been pre-assigned, travel from African-American students on 20th century southern cotton plantations to 21st century students of every race and ethnicity all across the nation.  For state constitutions are products of the 19th and early 20th century and use words like, “adequate” and “basic” to describe the obligations of the state to educate its students.  (19)

XI.

It is hardly an accident that the constitutional eras map onto shifts in technology.  In the first era agriculture was the dominant economic engine, while industrial technologies dominated the second constitutional era, while the era into which we are still transitioning is dominated by computers and information age technologies.  Whereas reading and writing were the literacies that concerned Judge Clayton in 1963, computers have added a quantitative literacy.  Industrial technologies mechanized physical work with machines that High School graduates could operate.  Computers, on the other hand, help organize our thoughts; they introduce knowledge work, much of which is partially encoded in quantitative data.  

It seems clear that what the Civil War Amendments intended to enshrine by the language they used and what that concept, rightly understood, has come to demand is not Sharecropper education.  Yet that is exactly what most students in the nation currently receive.  An education tied to the Industrial technologies of the 20th century, which is currently bogged down in state court cases with a focus on “basic”, “sound”, “adequate” and the idea of local control.  At the level of the Supreme Court we are facing Scalia’s “Absolute” of the 14th Amendment.  At the level of School children we are facing city-states:

“If Gardendale can do it, with its history of racism . . . then any other city would have the right to do what Gardendale has done.” Gardendale has won the right from a Federal District Judge to secede from the primarily black Jefferson County Alabama school district and establish its children as the legitimate citizens of its city-state schools.  All they have to do is cherry pick the right black students to bus in from the county and they’re school-free.  This is not white supremacy in action, this is Baldwin’s crime of innocence: Gardendale, like the rest of the nation, believes in local control and is therefore innocent.  (20)

XII.

Lincoln didn’t have a “We.” Our nation, searching for a “We” around which to construct what Lincoln could not, will have to revisit the Preamble. Be careful however: when those present in 1787 opted for “We The People,” not “We the citizens of the several states,” they opted as “undocumented people.” Their only option to document themselves was as citizens of a state.  In the final analysis, they opted for a Preamble which leaves open for every generation to invite into the constitutional conversation all who live in this geography and take it as their home to become part of a society in which everybody’s life matters.

The point is worth pondering:  Jefferson’s “wolf by the ear” conundrum depicts slavery as the unfortunate collateral damage of self-preservation.  At stake is the Preamble’s reach.  Whatever one’s constitutional theory, by “the facts themselves,” the Preamble’s reach has expanded, not contracted, over two and a quarter centuries.  Jefferson’s “wolf of slavery” contraction of its reach ran up against a civil war.  But neither the 1860s Civil War nor the 1960s Civil Rights Movement were sufficient to lay to rest self-preservation by White Supremacy, and Jefferson’s explicit contraction of the Preamble’s reach has resurfaced in the 21st century: voter repression, affordable health care, aspirational public education, mass incarceration, persecution of undocumented people, an expanding national race/class system of caste, have replaced 19th century slavery as the unfortunate collateral damage of the will to self-preservation via White-Supremacy.

It doesn’t have to end up that way.  But the way forward requires a commitment to national citizenship for the public good that is currently in short supply.  Even so, the Preamble points the way.  We can use it in the 21st century as a declaration which reaches beyond state citizenship to establish in the heart of the constitution the concept of national citizenship for the public good.  The way forward requires an expansion, not a contraction of the Preamble’s reach, an “earned amnesty” for the mass incarcerated and undocumented peoples.  This will require that we agree to think about what it meant in 1787, what it has meant across two and a quarter centuries and what it means for the 21st century.  

I invite you to repeat the Preamble after me while reflecting on what it means now to you:

We the People of the United States

In order to form a more perfect union

Establish Justice

Insure domestic tranquility

provide for the common defense

promote the general welfare

and secure the blessing of liberty  to ourselves and our posterity

do ordain and establish

this constitution for the United States of America.

– Bob Moses, Washington STEM Summit, Seattle, WA, Tuesday, November 28, 2017. 

Notes: 

  1.  Lemann, Nicholas, 2000. The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, p. 154

2.  Blumrosen, Alfred W. & Blumrosen, Ruth G., 2005. Slave Nation – How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution, Naperville, IL: Source Books, Inc., p.10

3.  ibid, p.11

4. Baldwin, James, 1963. The Fire Next Time, New York, NY: The Dial Press. 

5. Tribe, Laurence H., 2008. The Invisible Constitution, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, p. 67

6.  ibid, p. 68

7.  The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, “Why We the People? Citizens as Agents of Constitutional Change,” accessed online 12/6/2017,  https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/government-and-civics/essays/why-we-the-people-citizens-agents-constitutional-change/ 

8. Faulkner, William, Requiem for a Nun, 1951, 2011 edition, New York, NY: Random House, Inc.

9.  Patrick Henry Memorial Foundation, “We the People? or We the States?” Patrick Henry, June 4, 1788, accessed online, December 7, 2017, https://www.redhill.org/speech/we-people-or-we-states 

“I have the highest veneration for those gentlemen; but, sir, give me leave to demand, What right had they to say, We, the people? My political curiosity, exclusive of my anxious solicitude for the public welfare, leads me to ask, Who authorized them to speak the language of, We, the people, instead of, We, the states? States are the characteristics and the soul of a confederation. If the states be not the agents of this compact, it must be one great, consolidated, national government, of the people of all the states.”

10.  The Jefferson Monticello homepage, courtesy of the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., accessed online December 6, 2017, https://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/wolf-ear-quotation
Thomas Jefferson used the phrase “wolf by the ear” several times: “But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. — Jefferson to John Holmes, (discussing slavery and the Missouri question), April 22, 1820.

11.  U.S. Constitution: Article IV, Section 2, Paragraph 3, National Constitution Center Homepage, accessed online December 6, 2017 https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/articles/article-iv “No Person held to Service or Labor in on State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labor, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labor may be due.” 

12.  House Divided Speech, Springfield Illinois, June 16, 1858, access online at Abraham Lincoln Online, December 6, 2017, http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/house.htm 

13.  Prison Culture:  The Fugitive Slave Act, Chicago & A Black Police Force… Nov. 12, 2012, retrieved online December 6, 2017, http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/2012/11/12/the-fugitive-slave-act-chicago-a-black-police-force/ 

14. Lemann, Nicholas, 2006. Redemption, The Last Battle Of The Civil War, Chapter 5:  The Mississippi Plan, New York, NY: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. The Boutwell Report:  Mississippi in 1875: Report of the Select (Senate) Committee to enquire into the Mississippi election of 1875

15.  U.S. National Archives, December 12, 1941.  The U.S. Department of Justice, Departmental Circular 3591: Classification 50: Involuntary Servitude and Slavery, accessed online December 6, 2017, https://www.archives.gov/research/investigations/fbi/classifications/050-slavery.html 

16.  Frickey, Philip P., 1985. Judge Wisdom and Voting Rights: The Judicial Artist as Scholar and Pragmatist, Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Law Scholarship Repository. Accessed online December 6, 2017, http://scholarship.law.berkeley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2847&context=facpubs. United States vs. State of Louisiana, Dec. 31, 1963   

17. Tribe, Op Cite, p. 69

18.  Find Law website, accessed December 6, 2017, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/411/1.html San Antonio Independent School District v Rodriguez (1973), No. 71-1332: Argued October 12, 1972. Decided March 21, 1973.  

19. Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. Vs. State of New York, 

Title
Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc. v. State of New York 

Court/Judicial Body:
New York State Court of Appeals

Date:
1993-2006 

Instrument Cited:
New York State Constitution

Summary:
In this case, the non-profit educational advocacy organization Campaign for Fiscal Equity sued the state government on behalf of children in New York City public schools. Like many urban school districts, New York City’s public schools were vastly underfunded and struggled greatly throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. When the lawsuit was filed, the school district had difficulty providing basic textbooks for its pupils, let alone the training and support necessary to retain and nurture teachers and administrators. The graduation rates were abysmal, and with no improvement in sight, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity was formed to take action.

In 1995, New York’s highest court (the Court of Appeals) ruled that all children in the state had a right to a “sound basic education” under the New York State Constitution. In 2003, the Court of Appeals defined this basic education as a high school diploma, noting that “high school education is now all but indispensable” for students today to “prepare [ ] them to function productively as civic participants.” The Court found that students were entitled to (1) High-quality teaching; (2) Small class sizes; and (3) Basic learning and instructional tools, including classroom supplies, textbooks, libraries, and computers. With this in mind, the Court went on to order that New York State:

• Determine the costs of providing students a basic high school education in New York City;

• Reform school funding to provide every school in New York City with the resources necessary to provide this education; and

• Establish a system to ensure that the educational reforms the State makes are actually put into use

20.  Judge: Mostly white Southern city may secede from school district …  https://www.washingtonpost.com/…school-district…school…/4d654232-2a89-11e7-b605…  Apr 27, 2017 – The ruling in the Alabama case lays out a path for the Birmingham suburb to leave a majority-black school system. …Judge Madeline Haikala of the U.S. District Court in Birmingham ruled that the city of Gardendale’s effort to break away was motivated by race and sent messages of racial inferiority and….

The Resegregation of Jefferson County – The New York Times

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/06/…/the-resegregation-of-jefferson-county.html

The Resegregation of Jefferson County. What one Alabama town’s attempt to secede from its school district tells us about the fragile progress of racial integration in America. By NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES SEPT. 6, 2017. In 2013, a flier began making the rounds in Gardendale, Ala., a suburb of Birmingham. On it, a blond….

Judge Lets White Alabama Town Secede From School District Despite …

https://www.nbcnews.com/…/judge-lets-white-alabama-town-secede-school-district-de…

1 Cached

Apr 28, 2017 – An Alabama federal judge has given a mostly white town the green light to secede from the racially mixed county school district and start its own system. … Haikala’s ruling, which came down on Monday, apparently caught the Gardendale School Board by surprise. In a statement, board president Chris….

The amount of funding required to reform New York City’s schools was a matter of debate through late 2006, when the Court approved the State’s estimate of nearly 2 billion dollars to be budgeted for that purpose. 

Link to Full Judgement:
http://www.cfequity.org/static.php?page=keycourtdecisions&category=resources 

This case summary is provided by the Child Rights International Network for educational and informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!