Pierce v. Society of Sisters 268 U.S. 510 (1925)

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PIERCE v. SOCIETY OF SISTERS 268 U.S. 510 (1925)

Pierce provided a doctrinal link between the substantive due process of the era of lochner v. new york (1905) and that of our own time. The Supreme Court unanimously invalidated an Oregon law requiring children to attend public schools. A church school and a military school, threatened with closure, sued to enjoin the law's enforcement. Although the law threatened injury to the schools, their challenge to it was based not on their own constitutional rights but on the rights of their pupils and the children's parents. By allowing the schools to make this challenge, the Court made a major exception to the usual rule denying a litigant's standing to assert the constitutional rights of others. Here there was a close relationship between the schools and their patrons, and failure to allow the schools to assert the patrons' rights might cause injury to the schools that no one would contest in court. Parents, fearing prosecution and unwilling to bear the expense of suit, might simply send their children to public schools.

In an opinion by Justice james c. mcreynolds, the Court held that the law unconstitutionally invaded the parents' liberty, guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment's due process clause, to direct their children's education and upbringing. The decision rested squarely on the notion that important personal liberties could be seriously restricted by the state only upon a showing of great public need. Although Pierce thus traced its lineage to earlier decisions protecting economic liberty, it provided support for a later generation of decisions protecting marriage and family relationships against state intrusion. (See freedom of intimate association.)

Pierce is also cited regularly as a religious liberty precedent, defending the right of parents to choose religious education for their children.

(See wisconsin v. yoder.)

Kenneth L. Karst

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Pierce v. Society of Sisters 268 U.S. 510 (1925)

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