A Monumental decision by the Supreme Court of the United States affirms the right of parents to direct the education of their children.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The decision of the Supreme Court in favor of the plaintiff in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue validates a parent’s constitutionally protected right to direct the education of their children.
“The weight that this monumental decision carries is immense, as it’s an extraordinary victory for student achievement, parental control, equality in educational opportunities, and First Amendment rights,” said Jeanne Allen, the founder and chief executive of the Center for Education Reform (CER).
“For many families, Espinoza not only provides the potential for expanded opportunities for them to educate their children, including the choice of religious education, but also the right to decide what they believe is the most effective way to do so.”
As the plaintiffs argued, and CER reinforced in its amicus brief, denying parents their school of choice because of its religious nature — on the basis of Blaine Amendments enacted by many states decades ago — injures parents and children by violating bedrock constitutional principles. This is especially true for low-income families who are bound by their zip codes and financial barriers to chronically substandard schools. The Espinoza victory represents monumental progress toward reversing damage that has been done for nearly 150 years and which states can now address.
Former Solicitor General Paul Clement, author of CER’s amicus brief, adds, “In some states, legislation may be sufficient to enjoin application of a Blaine Amendment. In other states, an advisory opinion (from the Attorney General or state supreme court) may be the preferred course. In still other states, it may be necessary to bring a declaratory judgment action seeking a court ruling. And a state’s particular law and circumstances may call for some combination of these efforts — even all three.”
In the coming days, CER will be reviewing the literature as to how states can best proceed given the complexity of the decision.
For more information about Espinoza and the history of the Blaine Amendments, visit CER’s “Blaine” microsite. The site links to, among other things, Jeanne’s interview with Kendra Espinoza and Jeanne’s op-ed with Paul Clement for Time.
Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue
Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to this blog in various capacities, is among counsel on an amicus brief in support of the respondents in this case.
Holding: The application of the Montana Constitution’s “no-aid” provision to a state program providing tuition assistance to parents who send their children to private schools discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend or hope to attend them in violation of the free exercise clause.
Judgment: Reversed and remanded, 5-4, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts on June 30, 2020. Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Gorsuch joined. Justice Alito filed a concurring opinion. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion. Justice Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Kagan joined. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justice Kagan joined as to Part I. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion.