The Burger Court (1969–86)
Did the Burger Court hold that education was a fundamental right?
No, the Burger Court ruled 5–4 in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973) that there is no fundamental right of education in the Constitution. As such, the Court ruled that Texas’s system of funding public schools by property taxes within individual districts was constitutional as long as it was rationally related to a legitimate state interest.
Demetrio Rodriguez had filed a class-action lawsuit challenging the Texas public school financing system on equal protection grounds. He argued that the system led to better education for students in wealthier districts and worse education for students in poorer districts.
In his majority opinion, Justice Lewis Powell wrote that “it is not the province of this Court to create substantive constitutional rights in the name of guaranteeing equal protection of the laws.” The Court concluded that the Texas plan of funding school districts with local property taxes was rationally related to a legitimate state purpose. Four justices dissented, including Justice Thurgood Marshall, who wrote: “The majority’s holding can only be seen as a retreat from our historic commitment to equality of educational opportunity and as unsupportable acquiescence in a system which deprives children in their earliest years of the chance to reach their full potential as citizens.”