The Yale Law Journal

June 2019

Equality of Opportunity and the Schoolhouse Gate

abstract. Public schools have generated some of the most far-reaching cases to come before the Supreme Court. They have involved nearly every major civil right and liberty found in the Bill of Rights. The cases are often reflections of larger societal ills and anxieties, from segregation and immigration to religion and civil discourse over war. In that respect, they go to the core of the nation’s values. Yet constitutional law scholars have largely ignored education law as a distinct area of study and importance.

Justin Driver’s book cures that shortcoming, offering a three-dimensional view of how the Court’s education law jurisprudence has evolved over the past century. The Court, once loath to intervene in school affairs, increasingly recognized that students’ constitutional rights do not end at the schoolhouse gate. But that extension has not been without limitations, pause, or controversy. Driver vividly narrates both the Court’s internal conversations and those occurring in broader society. Most importantly, Driver helps the reader see how the Court’s decisions were not preordained, could have gone a number of different ways, and heavily influenced the history that followed.

This Book Review, however, argues that no account of the Court’s education precedent is complete without a detailed examination of how the Court’s decisions have affected equal opportunity. The attempt to ensure equal educational opportunity is ultimately the tie that binds so much of the Court’s precedent. Unfortunately, the Court’s doctrine on this score has not been one of consistent expansion. In fact, too often the Court has limited students’ rights and, thus, the educational opportunities they receive. This failure is clearest in two areas: those cases implicating a constitutional right to education and school desegregation.

authors. Michelle Adams is a Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Derek W. Black is a Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law. We would like to thank Benjamin Leb, Marta Poplawski, Keegan Stephan, and Kathleen Wahl for their research assistance; Josephine Brown for the several conversations, comments, edits, and responses to questions she shared with Professor Black; the Yale Law Journal editors for a seamless and timely publication process; and Justin Driver for writing a book that brought much needed attention and analysis to the field. He has enriched and sometimes shifted our thinking on a variety of cases. Whatever critiques we offer in this review, they pale in comparison to the overall accomplishment his book represents. His book is destined to influence the field for years to come.