John Paul Stevens: The Supreme Court’s worst decision of my tenure
Second-class no more. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York, a major case argued in December, the Court appears poised to expand the Second Amendment to protect gun possession outside the home as well. Just how far is an open question, though gun-rights groups have focused for now on enshrining a right to transport guns to shooting ranges and second homes.
For educational-equity advocates, the Court’s involvement has not been as helpful. The Court declared in 1973 that the Constitution guarantees no right to an education. That ruling paved the way for today’s radically unequal public-school spending patterns—patterns that reinforce and exacerbate existing socioeconomic and racial inequalities.
Like the gun activists, educational-equality proponents have not given up their vision of a constitutional solution. Equity advocates’ present litigation strategy is exemplified by a case known as Gary B v. Whitmer, which is currently pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The complaint in the case is painful to read: Many classes in Detroit public schools are taught by unqualified substitutes, and many classrooms use textbooks that are decades old, or lack them altogether. School buildings are in complete disrepair; the temperature had risen to 110 degrees in one building because of the lack of air conditioning, and students have to wear jackets and hats inside a number of schools during the winter months because of the lack of heat.
These schools, the plaintiffs argue, have deprived Detroit schoolchildren of their basic right to literacy, in violation of the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. A district judge rejected the plaintiffs’ theory in 2018, but a panel of judges on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals seemed more receptive during oral argument in October. And regardless of the outcome of the case in the Sixth Circuit, the Supreme Court will likely have the final say, perhaps as early as in 2021.
Read: Students in Detroit are suing the state because they weren’t taught to read
At first glance, the gun-rights movement and the pursuit of educational equity seem to have little in common. But they in fact share an approach: Both promote arguments that rely on what are called “implied” or “unenumerated” constitutional rights.
Start with the gun activists’ position in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association. One of their primary objectives is to vindicate a constitutional right to transport their firearms to any shooting range of their choosing. (New York City forbade certain gun owners with premises licenses from bringing their guns to shooting ranges outside city limits—at least, that is, before the city and state both amended the law to permit such travel. The gun-owning plaintiffs wanted to shoot at ranges in New Jersey.)