Teaching Profession

Souter a Key Voice in Education Cases

By Mark Walsh — May 12, 2009 1 min read

To the extent that education cases can be cast in conservative or liberal terms, Justice David H. Souter’s record on such cases in his 19 years on the U.S. Supreme Court can be characterized as reliably liberal.

The justice informed President Barack Obama this month that he will retire at the end of the term. He voted in dissent in 2007 against a court majority that made it much more difficult for school districts to consider race in assigning students to schools. And that same year, he joined a dissent against a decision upholding the discipline of a student displaying a “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” banner at an Alaska high school.

Justice Souter, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to succeed Justice William J. Brennan Jr., has been most prolific as an advocate for strict separation of church and state in cases involving government aid to religion or religion in the public schools.

In the court’s 1992 decision in Lee v. Weisman, he joined the 5-4 majority that ruled clergy-led graduation prayers at a middle school to be a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against a government establishment of religion. Justice Souter wrote that “the government’s sponsorship of prayer at the graduation ceremony is most reasonably understood as an official endorsement of religion.”

Two years later, in Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet, Justice Souter wrote the opinion in a 6-3 decision that struck down a New York state law establishing a special school district to serve children with disabilities in a community of Hasidic Jews. The law was a form of “religious favoritism,” the justice said.

In the court’s landmark 2002 decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, Justice Souter wrote a bitter dissent from the court’s 5-4 decision to uphold an Ohio voucher program that allowed Cleveland parents to send their children to private schools, including religious schools, at public expense. Justice Souter called such programs “a danger” and wrote, “I hope that a future [Supreme] Court will reconsider today’s dramatic departure from basic establishment clause principle.”

He may not have written his last opinion in an education case. The court heard arguments in three school cases last month, and it will issue opinions by the end of June.

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2009 edition of Education Week

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Interdisciplinary STEAM Specialist
Smyrna, Georgia
St. Benedict's Episcopal School
Interdisciplinary STEAM Specialist
Smyrna, Georgia
St. Benedict's Episcopal School
Arizona School Data Analyst - (AZVA)
Arizona, United States
K12 Inc.
Software Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association

Read Next

Teaching Profession Teachers Are Stressed Out, and It's Causing Some to Quit
Stress, more so than low pay, is the main reason public school teachers quit. And COVID-19 has increased the pressure.
7 min read
Image of exit doors.
pavel_balanenko/iStock/Getty
Teaching Profession Opinion Should Teachers Be Prioritized for the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Not all states are moving teachers to the front of the vaccination line. Researchers discuss the implications for in-person learning.
6 min read
Teacher Lizbeth Osuna from Cooper Elementary receives the Moderna vaccine at a CPS vaccination site at Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, Ill., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021.
Chicago public school teacher Lizbeth Osuna receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a school vaccination site last week.
Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times via AP
Teaching Profession Chicago Teachers Approve School Reopening Plan: ‘We Got What We Were Able to Take’
Chicago Teachers Union members have voted in favor of a reopening deal, signaling that in-person classes can resume Thursday as planned.
Hannah Leone & Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas
4 min read
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson speaks during a news conference at City Hall in Chicago on Feb. 7, 2021. The Chicago Teachers Union has approved a deal with the nation’s third-largest school district to get students back to class during the coronavirus pandemic, union officials announced early Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson speaks during a news conference at City Hall in Chicago on Feb. 7. The Chicago Teachers Union has approved a deal with the nation’s third-largest school district to get students back to class during the coronavirus pandemic.
Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune via AP
Teaching Profession 1 in 5 Educators Have Been Vaccinated, NEA Survey Finds
About one-fifth of teachers in the nation's largest teachers' union have had a COVID-19 vaccine; another 18 percent have scheduled a shot.
3 min read
Penny Cracas, right, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Dando, a school nurse, late last year in  West Chester, Pa.
Penny Cracas, right, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Robert Dando, a school nurse, late last year in West Chester, Pa.
Matt Slocum/AP