In a groundbreaking decision, a federal court has recognized “access to literacy” as a fundamental right.
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to "a basic minimum education," which lawyers claim starts with basic literacy.
In a 2-1 ruling, the Court acknowledged that it was breaking new legal ground. According to The Detroit Free Press, Associated Press, The Washington Post, and other national news outlets, the lawsuit has been closely watched by education advocates, legal scholars, and civil rights experts, many of whom say the case is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The court’s majority opinion says, “Without the literacy provided by a basic minimum education, it is impossible to participate in our democracy.”
The ruling addresses a lawsuit brought by a group of Detroit-area students who sued the state of Michigan for failing to provide a basic minimum education. Thursday’s ruling declared that access to literacy is a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution through the Fourteenth Amendment.
“Every meaningful interaction between a citizen and the state is predicated on a minimum level of literacy, meaning that access to literacy is necessary to access our political process,” Judge Eric Clay wrote in his majority opinion.
Legal experts say the Circuit Court ruling is narrow in scope, but nonetheless dramatic. Judges rejected arguments based on the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause and on compulsory school attendance laws. But the court recognized the rights to a basic minimum education and access to literacy as part of the 14th Amendment's guarantee of substantive due process.
The decision by the 6th Circuit Court also summarized several U.S. Supreme Court cases which considered whether a basic minimum education with access to literacy was a fundamental right, but never fully answered the question.
Stating that the Court cannot “shrink from our obligation to recognize a right when it is foundational to our system of self-governance,” Judge Clay’s opinion declared that “access to literacy is such a right.”
“Education has long been viewed as a great equalizer, giving all children a chance to meet or outperform society’s expectations, even when faced with substantial disparities in wealth and with past and ongoing racial inequality,” the opinion said.
Mark Rosenbaum, one of the lead attorneys for the Detroit students argues that this case could have implications for all U.S. students who lack access to basic literacy.
“It sends a powerful statement across the country.” Rosenbaum said, “It’s a victory for all children who deserve a basic, minimal education.”
[Sources: The Washington Post; Associated Press; Detroit Free Press; NBC News; The Detroit News]