Death or Transformation? Educational Autonomy in the Roberts Court
16 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2009
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decisions in Grutter and Gratz a number of commentators argued that the Court had begun to embrace a new constitutional doctrine that required deference to the decisions of some institutions. Most notably they asserted that the Court would defer within the field of education. But even as they suggested that the Court was more willing to explore the doctrine, those two opinions left several large questions unanswered: Did the Court's embrace of institutional autonomy extend beyond higher education, into the K-12 realm? If so, what were its bounds? Was the doctrine only relevant to efforts to achieve a diverse student body or could it be extended further, to have an impact on claims of right under the First, or other, Amendments? Two cases from the Roberts Court's October 2006 Term, Parents Involved v. Seattle School District and Morse v. Frederick, answered those questions. At first glance, the cases seem to indicate that a clear majority of the Court rejects the idea that educational autonomy should be extended to elementary and secondary schools. But in this article I argue that the Court's response in those cases was more complicated: A narrow majority of the Court believes that the principle of educational autonomy articulated in Grutter may sometimes extend to cases involving K-12 schools. At the same time, a slightly different, but still narrow, majority believes that principles of educational autonomy cannot limit the First Amendment rights of K-12 students.
Keywords: Institutional autonomy, First Amendment, school desegregation, educational autonomy, Equal Protection Clause, Fourteenth Amendment
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