Sonia Sotomayor on Education
States can fund private schools but not parochial schools
Supreme Court delivered a major victory to parents seeking state aid for their children's religious school education. The court's conservative majority ruled 5-4 that states offering scholarships to students in private schools cannot exclude religious
schools from such programs.
The Montana supreme court struck down the program, citing the separation of church and state and prompting state officials to deny funds to secular schools as well. The Supreme Court's liberal justices seized on that point
in three separate dissents. They said Montana solved the discrimination by ending the program. "Petitioners may still send their children to a religious school," Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. "There simply are no scholarship funds to be
Roberts and other conservative justices said the no-aid policy had its roots in constitutional amendments in 37 states, many rooted in 19th-century anti-Catholic sentiment, that blocked religious schools from receiving public funds.
Source: USA Today: Dissent on Espinosa v. Montana, No. 18-1195
, Jun 30, 2020
School policies on grade transfers must be race-neutral
Sotomayor's dissent in Gant v. Wallingford Board of Education, 1999, is perhaps her most strongly worded opinion addressing discrimination. Plaintiff Ray Gant, who was transferred mid-year from first grade to kindergarten because of academic difficulties
alleged that the school was deliberately indifferent to racial hostility that he suffered and discriminated against him through the transfer. Sotomayor agreed with the majority's decision to dismiss the racial harassment claim, but she rejected
their conclusion that the transfer was not race discrimination. In her view, the transfer was "unprecedented and contrary to the school's established policies": white students having academic difficulties, she noted, received compensatory help, whereas
Gant--the "lone black child" in his class--was not given an "equal chance" but was instead demoted to kindergarten just nine days after arriving at the school.
Source: ScotusBlog.com, "Civil Litigation"
, Jul 25, 2009
Often supports local school districts in her rulings
At least in school cases the judge appears to exhibit moderation rather than radicalism. Statistically, her record could even support the argument that she's conservative on education issues. An analysis found that of
26 decisions on "regular education," Judge Sotomayor ruled in favor of school districts 83 percent of the time. She ruled in favor of districts 58 percent of the time on her 13 special-education cases.
Source: Zach Miners in US News & World Report
, Jun 11, 2009
Paying taxes sufficient to oppose religious tax credits.
Justice Sotomayor joined the dissent on ARIZONA CHRISTIAN SCHOOL v. WINN on Apr 4, 2011:
AZ law allows tax credits for contributions made to school tuition organizations (STOs). The STO then provides scholarships to students attending private schools, including religious schools. AZ taxpayers sued the state, challenging this law on Establishment [of religion] Clause grounds.
HELD: Delivered by KENNEDY, joined by ROBERTS, SCALIA, THOMAS & ALITOThe plaintiff taxpayers lack standing to sue, because no case exists that a federal court may decide. The plaintiffs cannot show injury particularized to them, as opposed to any other taxpayer. The taxpayer-plaintiffs cannot prove that the AZ legislature raised their tax burden in order to provide this tax credit. Also, since the credit takes students out of the public schools, there is a cost savings to the State. Nor can the plaintiffs show that, if a court enjoined AZ from providing the tax credit to others, state legislators would use the increased revenue to lower the plaintiffs' tax burdens. To say that Arizonans benefiting from the
tax credit are paying their state taxes to an STO assumes that all income is government property even if it has not come into the tax collector's hands.
CONCURRED: SCALIA concurs; joined by THOMASI concur in the judgment, but would repudiate the Court's anomalous Flast v. Cohen precedent that allowed a taxpayer lawsuit to proceed. It is irreconcilable with the Court's other decisions on cases or controversies suitable for the federal courts under Article III.
DISSENT: KAGAN dissents; joined by GINSBURG, BREYER & SOTOMAYORTax credits can achieve the same result of supporting a religion as do payments from the treasury, and no principled distinction exists between them. Sometimes no one but a taxpayer has requisite standing to challenge government support of religion under the Establishment Clause.
Source: Supreme Court case 11-AZ-WINN argued on Nov 3, 2010
Page last updated: May 07, 2021