Washington - Justice Souter on Kiryas Joel School District
Washington - With reports that Justice David H. Souter intends to retire from the U.S. Supreme Court after 19 years, it is time to take a quick look at his legacy on education issues.
Souter has been a reliable liberal vote—in dissent from the court’s conservative majority—on such major recent cases as voluntary school racial diversity and student free speech. But Souter has done his most prolific opinion writing on cases involving government aid to religion or religion in the public schools.
Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet: In this 1994 ruling, Justice Souter wrote the opinion for a majority that struck down a New York State law establishing a special school district to serve children with disabilities in a community of Hasidic Jews. Souter wrote:
In this case, we are clearly constrained to conclude that the statute before us fails the test of neutrality. It delegates a power this Court has said “ranks at the very apex of the function of a State,” Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, 213 (1972), to an electorate defined by common religious belief and practice, in a manner that fails to foreclose religious favoritism. It therefore crosses the line from permissible accommodation to impermissible establishment.
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