Ingraham et al. v. Wright et al. (Great American Court Cases)
Legal Citation: 430 U.S. 651 (1977)
James Ingraham and Roosevelt Andrews, students at Drew Junior High School, Dade County, Florida
Willie J. Wright, principal at Drew Junior High School; Lemmie Deliford, assistant principal; Solomon Barnes, assistant to the principal; Edward L. Whigham, superintendent of the Dade County School System
That the corporal punishment they had received at Drew Junior High School had deprived them of their constitutional rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Chief Lawyer for Petitioners
Bruce S. Rogow
Chief Lawyer for Respondents
Frank A. Howard, Jr.
Justices for the Court
Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (writing for the Court), William H. Rehnquist, Potter Stewart
William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White
Date of Decision
19 April 1977
That the punishment did not constitute a deprivation of the petitioners'...
(The entire section is 1644 words.)
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Ingraham v. Wright (Supreme Court Drama)
Petitioners: James Ingraham and Roosevelt Andrews
Respondents: Willie J. Wright, et al.
Petitioners' Claim: That officials at Drew Junior High School violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by spanking them.
Chief Lawyer for Petitioners: Bruce S. Rogow
Chief Lawyer for Respondents: Frank A. Howard, Jr.
Justices for the Court: Harry A. Blackmun, Warren E. Burger, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., William H. Rehnquist, Potter Stewart
Justices Dissenting: William J. Brennan, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White
Date of Decision: April 19, 1977
Decision: The Supreme Court dismissed the case against Drew Junior High School, saying the school did not violate the students' constitutional rights.
Significance: With Ingraham, the Court said corporal punishment, or spanking, is not cruel and unusual punishment. It also said schools can use corporal punishment without giving students a chance to explain their conduct or otherwise defend themselves. If a student is injured by corporal punishment, he may file civil or criminal charges against the 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. Notice and a hearing are part of "due process of law." The Fourteenth Amendment requires states to use due process of law before taking away a person's liberty or freedom.
When a defendant is found guilty after a criminal trial, the Eighth Amendment prevents the government from using cruel and unusual punishmentsunishments that are barbaric in a civilized society. Under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, states must obey the Eighth Amendment and avoid cruel and unusual punishments.
Public schools often punish students who misbehave in school. The punishment can be detention, suspension, expulsion, or corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is punishment inflicted on a student's body, such as spanking. In Ingraham v. Wright, the Supreme Court had to decide whether corporal punishment is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment. The Court also had to decide whether schools must give students notice and a hearing before using corporal punishment.
In the early 1970s, a Florida law allowed public schools to use corporal punishment to maintain discipline. In Dade County, Florida, a local law said teachers could punish students using a flat wooden paddle measuring less than two feet long, three to four inches wide, and one-half inch thick. Teachers were supposed to get permission from the principal before paddling a student, and then were supposed to limit the paddling to one to five licks on the student's buttocks. Teachers, however, paddled students without getting permission and used more than five licks.
During the 1970-71 school year, James Ingraham and Roosevelt Andrews were students at Drew Junior High School in Dade County. On one occasion in October 1970, Ingraham was slow to respond to his teacher's instructions. As punishment, Ingraham received twenty licks with a paddle while being held over a table in the principal's office. The paddling was so severe that Ingraham missed several days of school with a hematoma, a pool of blood in his buttocks.
That same month, school officials paddled Andrews several times for breaking minor school rules. On two occasions the school paddled
Ingraham and Roosevelt filed a lawsuit against the principals of Drew Junior High and the superintendent of the Dade County School System. Ingraham and Roosevelt thought the school violated the Eighth Amendment by using cruel and unusual punishment and the Fourteenth Amendment by paddling them without a hearing. Ingraham and Roosevelt wanted to recover damages and to prevent the school from using corporal punishment in the future. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, however, and the court of appeals affirmed, so the students took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Corporal Punishment Approved
With a 5 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Drew Junior High. Writing for the Court, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., first addressed whether the Eighth Amendment applies to public schools. The Eighth Amendment says, "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted." Powell said bail, fines, and punishment are part of the criminal justice system. Public schools are not part of that system, so they do not have to obey the Eighth Amendment.
Bruce S. Rogow, Ingraham and Roosevelt's lawyer, urged the court to apply the Eighth Amendment to corporal punishment in public schools. He said there were few public schools when the United States adopted the amendment in 1791 because most children were educated privately. Americans did not know that someday students would be forced to attend public schools in which corporal punishment would be used. Rogow said it would be absurd to protect criminals but not school children from cruel and unusual punishment.
The Court rejected Rogow's argument. It said public schools are different from prisons. Public schools are open environments where children are free to go home at the end of each day. That means parents are likely to learn if schools are beating their children too severely. That alone is enough to protect the students in most cases.
Attorney Rogow also argued that schools should have to give students a hearing and a chance to defend themselves before using corporal punishment. After all, in Goss v. Lopez (1975), the Supreme Court said schools must give students notice and a hearing before suspending them from school for up to ten days. Students should get the same due process rights before being paddled.
The Supreme Court also rejected this argument. Florida laws allowed students who were injured by severe beatings to sue school officials to recover their damages. School officials also could face criminal charges in such cases. Justice Powell said civil and criminal charges are enough to protect students who receive beatings that are unfair or too harsh. Forcing schools to hold a hearing in every case would make corporal punishment too expensive and time-consuming. The Supreme Court was not willing to end corporal punishment by making it so costly.
Uncle Sam the Barbarian
Four justices dissented, which means they disagreed with the Court's decision. Justice Byron R. White wrote a dissenting opinion. He thought the Eighth Amendment prevented the government from using cruel and unusual punishment anywhere, not just in the criminal justice system. The United States adopted the amendment because "there are some punishments that are so barbaric and inhumane that we will not permit them to be imposed on anyone." White said that under the Court's decision, the Eighth Amendment protects "a prisoner who is beaten mercilessly" but not "a schoolchild who commits the same breach of discipline."
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.
Jordan, Mary. "Instead of a Hit, Sinatra." Washington Post, February 7, 1993.
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.