Goss v. Lopez (Great American Court Cases)
Legal Citation: 419 U.S. 565 (1975)
Norval Goss, et al.
Eileen Lopez, et al.
That the suspension of a public school student without a hearing does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Chief Lawyer for Appellant
Thomas A. Bustin
Chief Lawyer for Appellee
Peter D. Roos
Justices for the Court
William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Byron R. White (writing for the Court)
Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist
Date of Decision
22 January 1975
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is violated when a student is suspended without notice and hearing.
In Goss v. Lopez, the Supreme Court ruled that students have both a "property interest" and a "liberty interest" in public education.
According to Ohio law, a public school principal...
(The entire section is 1035 words.)
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Goss v. Lopez (Supreme Court Drama)
Appellants: Norval Goss, et al.
Appellees: Dwight Lopez, et al.
Appellants' Claim: That Ohio schools did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by suspending public school students without a hearing.
Chief Lawyer for Appellants: Thomas A. Bustin
Chief Lawyer for Appellees: Peter D. Roos
Justices for the Court: William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Byron R. White
Justices Dissenting: Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist
Date of Decision: January 22, 1975
Decision: The Supreme Court decided that the Ohio schools did violate the Due Process Clause.
Significance: Goss requires public schools to give students a chance to explain their conduct before or soon after suspending them from school.
The American justice system is supposed to be fair. When a person is accused of breaking a law, fairness means giving him notice of the charges against him. Fairness also means holding a hearing or trial to give the accused a chance to defend himself. Punishing a person without notice and a hearing is very un-American.
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects Americans from unfair treatment by state governments. It says states may not take away life, liberty, or property without "due process of law." Due process usually means notice and a hearing. In Goss v. Lopez, the U.S. Supreme Court had to decide whether public schools may suspend students for up to ten days without notice or a hearing.
In the early 1970s, an Ohio law allowed public school principals to suspend students for up to ten days without a hearing. Demonstrations related to the Vietnam War and other public issues of the day resulted in a lot of suspensions. Dwight Lopez was a student at Central High School in Columbus, Ohio. Lopez was suspended along with 75 other students after a lunchroom disturbance that damaged school property. Although Lopez said he did not destroy anything, the school suspended him without a hearing and without explaining what he did wrong.
Betty Crome, who attended McGuffey Junior High School in Columbus, attended a demonstration at another high school. The police arrested Crome and many others during the demonstration, but released Crome without charges at the police station. The next day, Crome learned that she had been suspended from school for ten days. Crome also did not get a hearing or an explanation of what she had done wrong.
Lopez and Crome joined a group of other students to sue the Columbus Board of Education and the Columbus Public School System. They wanted the court to strike down the Ohio law that allowed principals to suspend students without a hearing. Lopez and the students said the law violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. When the trial court ruled in favor of the students and ordered the schools to remove the suspensions from the students' records, the school system and school board appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
High Court Rules
With a 5 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students. Writing for the Court, Justice Byron R. White said public schools must obey the Due Process Clause. "The Fourteenth Amendment, as now applied to the States, protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creaturesoards of Education not excepted." Students are citizens just like adults, so the Fourteenth Amendment protects them at school.
The Court said the right to attend public school is a property right because it is something valuable that the state provides all students. When a school suspends a student, it takes away her property right for a certain number of days. Suspension also harms a student's reputation, which is a part of liberty and freedom. Because suspension takes away both a property right and liberty, schools may not suspend students without "due process of law."
Due process usually requires notice and a hearing. The Court decided, however, that it would be impossible to conduct a full hearing for every suspension. It would take too much time and money, both of which are scarce resources in public schools.
The Court decided that schools cannot suspend students without notifying them of the charges, explaining the evidence against them, and giving them an informal hearing. Without notice, a student may not know why he is being suspended. Without a hearing, he cannot explain his conduct or convince the school that he did nothing wrong. The Court said, "Fairness can rarely be obtained by secret, onesided determination of facts decisive of rights."
In most cases, the hearing can be a discussion with the principal before the student is suspended. Something more formal may be appropriate in serious cases. If the student is endangering other students, the hearing may happen soon after the school dismisses the student. In any event, students must get notice of the charges against them and a chance to explain why they should not be suspended. Otherwise, students may not learn the procedures that are supposed to make American justice fair.
Suggestions for further reading
Berry, Joy. Every Kid's Guide to the Juvenile Justice System. Chicago: Children's Press, 1987.
Gora, Joel M. Due Process of Law. National Textbook Co., 1982.
Greenberg, Keith Elliot, and Jeanne Vestal. Adolescent Rights: Are Young People Equal under the Law? Twenty First Century Books, 1995.
Hyde, Margaret O. Juvenile Justice and Injustice. New York: Franklin Watts, 1977.
Johnson, Joan. Justice. New York: Franklin Watts, 1985.
Kowalski, Kathiann M. Teen Rights: At Home, at School, Online. Enslow Publishers Inc., 2000.
Landau, Elaine. Your Legal Rights: From Custody Battles to School Searches, the Headline-Making Cases That Affect Your Life. Walker & Co., 1995.
Marx, Trish, and Sandra Joseph Nunez. And Justice for All: The Legal Rights of Young People. Millbrook Press, 1997.
Olney, Ross R., and Patricia J. Olney. Up against the Law: Your Legal Rights as a Minor. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1985.
Riekes, Linda, Steve Jenkins, and Armentha Russell. Juvenile Responsibility and Law. St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1990.
Sanchez, Rene, and William Booth. "California Toughens Juvenile Crime Laws." Washington Post, March 13, 2000.