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Goss v. Lopez

The Majority's Argument

In his majority opinion, Justice White held that students have a "property interest" in attending school since the state guarantees them a free public education. To suspend them from school, therefore, is in effect to deprive them of their property. While this interest must be balanced against the school system's interest in maintaining order and discipline, due process must be respected at all times. As Justice White wrote:

The authority possessed by the State to prescribe and enforce standards of conduct in its schools, although concededly very broad, must be exercised consistently with constitutional safeguards. Among other things, the State is constrained to recognize a student's legitimate entitlement to a public education as a property interest which is protected by the Due Process Clause and which may not be taken away for misconduct without adherence to the minimum procedures required by that Clause.

Justice White also found that, because a suspension can damage a child's reputation, the child's "liberty interest" may be violated if unsubstantiated charges are brought against him. Accordingly, the child must be given the opportunity to hear the charges and reply:

If sustained and recorded, those charges could seriously damage the students' standing with their fellow pupils and their teachers as well as interfere with later opportunities for higher education and employment. It is apparent that the claimed right of the State to determine unilaterally and without process whether that misconduct has occurred immediately collides with the requirements of the Constitution.

The Court did not go so far as to command that suspended students be granted the same rights as accused criminals. In doing so, it recognized the impracticality of such a scheme and noted the damaging effect this might have in an educational setting:

We stop short of construing the Due Process Clause to require, countrywide, that hearings in connection with short suspensions must afford the student the opportunity to secure counsel, to confront and cross-examine witnesses supporting the charge, or to call his own witnesses to verify his version of the incident. Brief disciplinary suspensions are almost countless. To impose in each such case even truncated trial-type procedures might well overwhelm administrative facilities in many places and, by diverting resources, cost more than it would save in educational effectiveness. Moreover, further formalizing the suspension process and escalating its formality and adversary nature may not only make it too costly as a regular disciplinary tool but also destroy its effectiveness as part of the teaching process.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Goss v. Lopez - Significance, The Lower Court Rulings, The Majority's Argument, The Dissent, Further Readings