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Ingraham et al. v. Wright et al.

"the Openness Of The School Environment"

Justice Powell, writing for the majority, laid out three major arguments. First, Powell declared that the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment does not apply to public schools. In almost all cases, Powell wrote, the clause applies only to criminals. The clause is particularly inappropriate to schools, he argued, "in light of the openness of the school environment, [which] affords significant protection against unjustified corporal punishment of schoolchildren." Because children are free to leave school at the end of the day and because there are witnesses around to virtually everything that occurs, the student is in a very different position from the criminal who is hidden away in a jail where he or she must remain for months or even years.

Second, Powell said, reasonable corporal punishment is acceptable in principle as a means of maintaining order and discipline in the schools. The mere fact of corporal punishment cannot be defined as "cruel and unusual punishment." Severe and unusual corporal punishment--such as that received by Ingraham and Andrews--can be remedied by having parents sue teachers and school districts for civil or even criminal penalties. In effect, Powell was transferring this issue from a federal court down to a state court level.

Finally, Powell held that administering corporal punishment without giving the student a hearing did not violate the student's Fourteenth Amendment rights to "due process." Powell said that in this case, the interest of the school in using corporal punishment had to be balanced against the interest of the child's personal liberty. Powell feared that if schools had to offer hearings every time they administered corporal punishment, they might stop using corporal punishment altogether, and a valuable disciplinary tool would be lost. If society did wish to abolish corporal punishment, Powell said, the way to do so was through the legislature, not through the courts.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Ingraham et al. v. Wright et al. - Significance, Cruel And Unusual Punishment?, "the Openness Of The School Environment", "punishments So Barbaric And Inhumane"