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Lessons from "Small Cases": Reflections on Dodson V. Arkansas Activities Association

20 Pages Posted: 2 May 2005  

Polly J. Price

Emory University School of Law


Judge Richard S. Arnold of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who died in 2004, was widely known for his erudite opinions addressing individual constitutional rights. This essay, prepared for an upcoming tribute in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, considers an early Arnold opinion from his service as a district court judge. Dodson v. Arkansas Activities Association, 468 F. Supp. 394, 398 (E.D. Ark. 1979), a dispute about the rules for girls basketball in Arkansas, has been called "probably the most significant step for female athletes in the State of Arkansas," and among the "revolutionary" decisions interpreting the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to mandate equal athletic opportunities for high school females.

The case required Arnold to explicate the meaning of gender equity under the U.S. Constitution in the unlikely context of a dispute about half-court rules for grade-school girls' basketball. Dodson was among the earliest cases to apply the intermediate standard of constitutional scrutiny suggested by the U.S. Supreme Court in Craig v. Boren. Because tradition alone supported Arkansas's continued requirement of half-court basketball for girls, Arnold held that this justification did not constitute an important governmental objective. The same rationale would later be invoked by the Supreme Court in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan. At the time of his decision, two other federal courts - including the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals - had already ruled the other way. Arnold's opinion became the leading cited authority for the particular issue it addressed, by those who agreed with it and those who did not. By contrast, Arnold's ruling on the plaintiff's Title IX claim no longer reflects the current state of the law.

This essay reviews the history surrounding the case, and also places Dodson v. Arkansas Activities Association in the context of Arnold's judicial method and temperament. Dodson is an early example of Arnold's sensitivity to individual rights and his view of the Constitution as primarily a limitation on government.

Keywords: Judicial Biography

Suggested Citation

Price, Polly J., Lessons from "Small Cases": Reflections on Dodson V. Arkansas Activities Association. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Review, Vol. 27, 2005. Available at SSRN:

Polly J. Price (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-7869 (Phone)

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