Is access to literacy a fundamental constitutional right?

One Michigan federal judge answered no.  A group of Detroit public schoolchildren sued Michigan state officials alleging that the conditions of their schools were so poor, and so inadequate, that they have not received even a minimally adequate education. Specifically, they alleged they have been denied access to literacy on account of their races in violation of the United States Constitution.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the students sued the wrong parties and the alleged harm is not actionable under the Constitution. The court agreed with the defendants.

The court first held that Michigan state authorities were proper parties generally because of state laws enacted to govern public education and state agencies and authorities involved in funding, administration, and oversight of public schools.

The students’ constitutional claims turned on whether access to literacy is a fundamental constitutional right.  Citing U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the court observed that fundamental rights are “objectively, deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition, and implicit in the concept of ordered liberty, such that neither liberty nor justice would exist if they were sacrificed.”

That’s a mouthful.

The problem is that courts rarely recognize new fundamental constitutional rights and are reticent to find such rights, even involving “unquestionably important necessities of life.”  The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that “… the Constitution does not provide judicial remedies for every social and economic ill.”  The trial court in the Michigan case, therefore, concluded:

The conditions and outcomes of Plaintiffs' schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury—and so does society. But the Court is faced with a discrete question: does the Due Process Clause demand that a State affirmatively provide each child with a defined, minimum level of education by which the child can attain literacy?  …the answer to the question is no.

The plaintiffs are certain to appeal this decision.  The U.S. Supreme Court has not weighed in on whether access to literacy is a constitutional right and so this one will be watched closely by advocates and interest groups on both sides.

The case is, Gary B. v. Snyder, No. 2:16-CV-13292, 2018 WL 3207900 (E.D. Mich. June 29, 2018).


Tomorrow:   Serving alcohol to minors gets school employee fired.