. . . . The protection of the 14th Amendment extends to anyone, citizen or stranger, who is subject to the laws of a state, and reaches into every corner of a state's territory. That a person's initial entry into a state, or into the United States, was unlawful, and that he may for that reason be expelled, cannot negate the simple fact of his presence within the state's territorial perimeter. Given such presence, he is subject to the full range of obligations imposed by the state's civil and criminal laws. And until he leaves the jurisdiction--either voluntarily or involuntarily in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the United States--he is entitled to the equal protection of the laws that a state may choose to establish.
. . . . Paradoxically, by depriving the children of any disfavored group of an education, we foreclose the means by which that group might raise the level of esteem in which it is held by the majority.
. . . .Texas' law imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable for their disabling status. The stigma of illiteracy will mark them for the rest of their lives. By denying these children a basic education, we deny them the ability to live within the structure of our civil institutions and foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute in even the smallest way to the progress of our nation.
. . . . It is difficult to understand precisely what the state hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a sub-class of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare and crime. It is thus clear that whatever savings might be achieved by denying these children an education, they are wholly insubstantial in light of the costs involved to these children, the state and the nation.
Excerpts from the dissent by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger:
Were it our business to set the nation's social policy, I would agree without hesitation that it is senseless for an enlightened society to deprive any children--including illegal aliens--of an elementary education . . . .
However, the Constitution does not constitute us as "Platonic Guardians," nor does it vest in this court the authority to strike down laws because they do not meet our standards of desirable social policy, "wisdom," or "common sense." We trespass on the assigned function of the political branches under our structure of limited and separated powers when we assume a policymaking role as the court does today.
. . . . The court's holding today manifests the justly criticized judicial tendency to attempt speedy and wholesale formulation of "remedies" for the failures--or simply the laggard pace--of the political processes of our system of government. The court employs, and in my view abuses, the 14th Amendment in an effort to become an omnipotent and omniscient problem solver.
. . . . The dispositive issue in these cases, simply put, is whether, for purposes of allocating its finite resources, a state has a legitimate reason to differentiate between the persons who are lawfully within the state and those who are unlawfully there. The distinction the State of Texas has drawn--based not only upon its own legitimate interests but on classifications established by the federal government in its immigration laws and policies--is not unconstitutional.