In Goss v. Lopez, 419 U.S. 565 (1975), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a school must conduct a hearing before subjecting a student to suspension. Failure to hold such a hearing constitutes a due process violation under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees due process and equal protection with respect to the laws of the state.
In the Goss case, nine named students, including Dwight Lopez, were suspended from school for 10 days for destroying school property. At the time, Ohio law allowed schools to suspend students without a hearing. Lopez testified that at least 75 other students were suspended on the same day. The events in question transpired at Marion-Franklin High School, where several students were actively engaged in protests against the Vietnam War. The school had been consumed by a general state of unrest in February to March of 1971. Tyrone Washington, another of the defendants, was accused of demonstrating in the school auditorium while a class was in session and refusing to leave when asked. As he was escorted from the auditorium, Rudolph Sutton physically attacked a police officer. All of the other named defendants were suspended for similar conduct.
No student was given a hearing to determine the facts of the incident. The students and parents were invited to attend a conference subsequent to the suspension to discuss the students’ futures.
The appeal to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio was initiated by the Columbus, Ohio, Public School System (CPSS), which was seeking to overturn the judgment in favor of the plaintiffs made by the lower court. CPSS lost its appeal, with the U.S. Supreme Court asserting that because Ohio had declared education to be a right, it could not deny this right to citizens without due process of law. The Supreme Court’s decision largely echoed the reasoning of the District Court, which had established public education as a property interest requiring due process protection.
The Supreme Court went to great care not to overly burden school administrators with precise rules for the handling of suspensions. Its ruling applied to short suspensions, less than 10 days according to Ohio law, suggesting that more procedural safeguards might be necessary for longer suspensions. The Court also suggested that its decision would not place any more burden on school administrators than a fair-minded administrator would already assume to prevent unfair suspensions.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Byron White, with Justices William O. Douglas, Potter Stewart, William Brennan, and Thurgood Marshall joining the opinion. The dissent was written by Justice Lewis Powell and joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices William Rehnquist and Harry
Blackmun. The decision split along tradition liberal/conservative lines. Interestingly, long-time conservative Justice Harry Blackmun, who sided with the conservative faction in Goss, would go on to become the leading liberal on the Supreme Court.
- Goss v. Lopez: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1974/1974_73_898