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Judge Says No Constitutional Right to Literacy

By George Khoury, Esq. on July 06, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Michigan federal court judge recently rejected claims filed on behalf of Detroit public school students that the state was denying the children their right to an education. The plaintiffs have vowed to appeal to the Sixth Circuit.

While expressing remorse over the deplorable conditions that the Detroit public school students suffer, Judge Stephen Murphy III also explained that the plaintiffs were seeking to enforce a right that does not exist. Additionally, the court found that the claim of race discrimination failed to show that other schools were treated more favorably by the state.

Detroit Public Schools in Shambles

While the lawsuit alleged that the physical environment of the schools is beyond unacceptable (with failing facilities, pests, and woefully outdated learning materials), sadly some schools simply don't even have enough teachers. In some classrooms in the Detroit Public School system, there are students and no teachers.

The heart of the class action claim centers on the "right to literacy," which basically means a "right to education." And if you're scratching your head, stop, it doesn't exist in the U.S. Constitution, though most state constitutions, including Michigan, minimally establish the requirement that states must educate their residents. However, apparently for Judge Murphy, that wasn't enough, as Michigan's constitution doesn't call for a minimum level or quality of education.

The Equal Protection and Due Process claims failed because, as Judge Murphy directly explained: "access to literacy is not a fundamental right-at least not in the positive-right sense." Reading the decision is likely to leave one feeling like the logic Judge Murphy used just doesn't pan out, particularly after he quotes Brown v. Board's oft quoted line: "Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide [education], is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms." It's almost surprising Judge Murphy didn't end his opinion by demanded the plaintiffs fix the school system themselves with "all deliberate speed."

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