Sidley obtained a landmark victory on behalf of a class of Detroit schoolchildren who have been denied their fundamental right of access to literacy. In an historic decision, the Sixth Circuit held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution confers a fundamental right of access to literacy, and held that the Detroit schoolchildren stated a claim that they were deprived of this right. This groundbreaking decision is the first time a court has held that there is a fundamental federal right of access to literacy, and has been described as “the most momentous circuit court decision in the field of education in decades.”
The class action, originally filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, was brought against Michigan’s then-Governor Rick Snyder and state education officials. That court dismissed the complaint, on the ground that the schoolchildren failed to state a claim because there is no fundamental right to a defined minimum level of education by which they can attain literacy. On April 23, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ due process claim, and remanded the case for further proceedings.
In the opinion, the Sixth Circuit cited decisions by the Supreme Court underscoring “the critical importance of education.” The Sixth Circuit recognized that public education is “foundational to our system of self-governance,” and “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.” For these reasons, the Court held, “a basic minimum education has a longstanding presence in our history and tradition, and is essential to our concept of ordered liberty.”
In recognition for the outstanding quality of Sidley’s work and the service that the firm has given to their clients, Public Counsel previously awarded Sidley its 2019 Public Counsel Pro Bono Award.
The team working on behalf of the Detroit schoolchildren is led by Carter Phillips, Tacy Flint, and Co-Counsel Mark Rosenbaum, Director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law project and Professor Evan Caminker of University of Michigan Law School. The Sidley team also includes Joshua Anderson, Larry Fogel, Jenny Wheeler, Scott Lassar, Lauren De Lilly, Rachel Goldberg, Rara Kang, and Adriane Peralta.