San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez
Decided on Mar. 21, 1973; 411 US 1

Use of property tax as a mean to finance public education is constitutional.



A. Issues Discussed: Equal protection clause, discrimination

B. Legal Question Presented:

Is a state's use of property taxes to finance its public schools, which results in disparities in expenditure between districts, constitutional?


A. Background:

"The financing of public elementary and secondary schools in Texas is a product of state and local participation. Almost half of the revenues are derived from a largely state-funded program designed to provide a basic minimum educational offering in every school.

Each district supplements state aid through an ad valorem tax on property within its jurisdiction. Appellees brought this class action on behalf of schoolchildren said to be members of poor families who reside in school districts having a low property tax base, making the claim that the Texas system's reliance on local property taxation favors the more affluent and violates equal protection requirements because of substantial interdistrict disparities in per-pupil expenditures resulting primarily from differences in the value of assessable property among the districts.

The District Court, finding that wealth is a 'suspect' classification and that education is a 'fundamental' right, concluded that the system could be upheld only upon a showing, which appellants failed to make, that there was a compelling state interest for the system. The court also concluded that appellants failed even to demonstrate a reasonable or rational basis for the State's system."

On appeal, the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
Opposing Side
Unavailable Unavailable
Opposing Side
Arthur Gochman argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief was Mario Obledo.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by David Bonderman and Peter Van N. Lockwood for Wendell Anderson, Governor of Minnesota, et al.; by Robert R. Coffman for Wilson Riles, Superintendent of Public Instruction of California, et al.; by Roderick M. Hills for Houston I. Flournoy, Controller of California; by Ramsey Clark, John Silard, David C. Long, George L. Russell, Jr., Harold J. Ruvoldt, Jr., J. Albert Woll, Thomas E. Harris, John Ligtenberg, A. L. Zwerdling, and Stephen I. Schlossberg for the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore et al.; by George H. Spencer for San Antonio Independent School District; by Norman Dorsen, Marvin M. Karpatkin, Melvin L. Wulf, Paul S. Berger, Joseph B. Robison, Arnold Forster, and Stanley P. Hebert for the American Civil Liberties Union et al.; by Jack Greenberg, James M. Nabrit III, Norman J. Chachkin, and Abraham Sofaer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; by Stephen J. Pollak, Ralph J. Moore, Jr., Richard M. Sharp, and David Rubin for the National Education Assn. et al.; and by John E. Coons for John Serrano, Jr., et al.
Charles Alan Wright argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs were Crawford C. Martin, Attorney General of Texas, Nola White, First Assistant Attorney General, Alfred Walker, Executive Assistant Attorney General, J. C. Davis and Pat Bailey, Assistant Attorneys General, and Samuel D. McDaniel.

Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by George F. Kugler, Jr., Attorney General, pro se, and Stephen Skillman, Assistant Attorney General, for the Attorney General of New Jersey; by George W. Liebmann and Shale D. Stiller for Montgomery County, Maryland, joined by Francis B. Burch, Attorney General of Maryland, Henry R. Lord, Deputy Attorney General, E. Stephen Derby, Assistant Attorney General; William J. Baxley, Attorney General of Alabama; Gary K. Nelson, Attorney General of Arizona, James G. Bond, Assistant Attorney General; Evelle J. Younger, Attorney General of California, Elizabeth Palmer, Assistant Attorney General, Edward M. Belasco, Deputy Attorney General; Duke W. Dunbar, Attorney General of Colorado; Robert K. Killian, Attorney General of Connecticut, F. Michael Ahern, Assistant Attorney General; W. Anthony Park, Attorney General of Idaho, James R. Hargis, Deputy Attorney General; Theodore L. Sendak, Attorney General of Indiana; Charles M. Wells, Harry T. Ice, Richard C. Turner, Attorney General of Iowa, George W. Murray, Assistant Attorney General; Vern Miller, Attorney General of Kansas, Matthew J. Dowd and John C. Johnson, Assistant Attorneys General; Ed W. Hancock, Attorney General of Kentucky, Carl T. Miller, Assistant Attorney General; William J. Guste, Jr., Attorney General of Louisiana; James S. Erwin, Attorney General of Maine, George West, Assistant Attorney General; Robert H. Quinn, Attorney General of Massachusetts, Lawrence T. Bench, Assistant Attorney General, Charles F. Clippert, [411 U.S. 1, 4] William M. Saxton, Robert B. Webster; A. F. Summer, Attorney General of Mississippi, Martin R. McLendon, Assistant Attorney General; John Danforth, Attorney General of Missouri, D. Brook Bartlett, Assistant Attorney General; Clarence A. H. Meyer, Attorney General of Nebraska, Harold Mosher, Assistant Attorney General; Warren B. Rudman, Attorney General of New Hampshire; Louis J. Lefkowitz, Attorney General of New York; Robert B. Morgan, Attorney General of North Carolina, Burley B. Mitchell, Jr., Assistant Attorney General; Helgi Johanneson, Attorney General of North Dakota, Gerald Vandewalle, Assistant Attorney General; Lee Johnson, Attorney General of Oregon; Daniel R. McLeod, Attorney General of South Carolina, G. Lewis Argoe, Jr., Assistant Attorney General; Gordon Mydland, Attorney General of South Dakota, C. J. Kelly, Assistant Attorney General; David M. Pack, Attorney General of Tennessee, Milton P. Rice, Deputy Attorney General; Vernon B. Romney, Attorney General of Utah, Robert B. Hansen, Deputy Attorney General; James M. Jeffords, Attorney General of Vermont; Chauncey H. Browning, Jr., Attorney General of West Virginia, Victor A. Barone, Assistant Attorney General; Robert W. Warren, Attorney General of Wisconsin, and Betty R. Brown, Assistant Attorney General; and by John D. Maharg and James W. Briggs for Richard M. Clowes, Superintendent of Schools of the County of Los Angeles, et al.

"...The Texas system does not disadvantage any suspect class. It has not been shown to discriminate against any definable class of 'poor' people or to occasion discriminations depending on the relative wealth of the families in any district...

Nor does the Texas school-financing system impermissibly interfere with the exercise of a 'fundamental' right or liberty. Though education is one of the most important services performed by the State, it is not within the limited category of rights recognized by this Court as guaranteed by the Constitution. Even if some identifiable quantum of education is arguably entitled to constitutional protection to make meaningful the exercise of other constitutional rights, here there is no showing that the Texas system fails to provide the basic minimal skills necessary for that purpose...

The Texas system does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Though concededly imperfect, the system bears a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose. While assuring a basic education for every child in the State, it permits and encourages participation in and significant control of each district's schools at the local level."

The US Supreme Court reversed the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas judgment.

Justice Vote: 5 Pro vs. 4 Con
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Marshall, T. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined dissenting opinion)
  • Powell, L. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Burger, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Joined majority opinion)

    The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged affirmance of the judgment of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas; the Supreme Court reversed in a 5-4 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.