“School choice” wouldn’t emerge onto the national scene until after Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the various forays into moral corruption and social decay wouldn’t become staples of the nation’s highest court until a decade after that. The rest of the Lochner Era was largely about how freedom meant letting corporations do whatever they wanted to workers because those being exploited had just as much theoretical control over the outcome as their gilded overlords did. (They didn’t put it in those exact terms.) Between 1897 – 1937, the Supreme Court struck down nearly 200 different statues, most as violations of “freedom of contract” or other violation of “economic substantive due process.”
The Lochner Era (1897 – 1937), however, is named for a case representing a judicial philosophy which dominated the nation’s highest court for nearly forty years. For over a generation, the Court pushed back against the reform efforts of the Progressive Era and gave FDR fits by overturning many of his best efforts to regulate industry during the Great Depression. They laid the foundation for the modern “school choice” movement by uncovering new rights related to parenting and families. In the process, they brought to life an understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment that would end up securing the rights of American citizens to contraception, gay sex, and abortions.
The dilemma of any effort to compile “must know” Supreme Court cases is deciding where to draw the line. If you narrow it to a list of 12, there are at least 3 or 4 others that really MUST be added in the name of consistency. If you expand the list to, say... 24, you're sacrificing another half-dozen that should simply NOT be neglected if you're to retain ANY credibility.
Is It Constitutional Now? How About Now? Or Now?
Three Big Things:
1. After it became clear that state-sponsored prayer was no longer a realistic option in public education, states began experimenting with the idea of a “moment of silence” during which students could pray (although no one had ever suggested that they couldn’t).
The Supreme Court’s decision in Stone v. Graham was announced on November 17th, 1980. Less than two weeks earlier, Ronald Reagan had been elected President of the United States, initiating what would later be called the “Reagan Revolution” – a resurgence of conservative values and policies anchored in an idealized past. The events leading to Stone began years earlier, but its outcome sent a message to the faithful in the 1980s similar to that of Engel v. Vitale and Abington v. Schempp two decades before: American’s fundamental values (meaning public promotion of Christianity) were under attack by intellectual elitists… aka “liberals.” And some of them wore robes.
Wisconsin law required that kids be in school SOMEWHERE – public or private was up to the parents – until they were at least 16. Yoder, Miller, and Yutzy were prosecuted for violating state law and the case went to trial with Jonas Yoder acting on behalf of the group. While he was no doubt a capable individual, the Amish and Conservative Mennonites aren’t big on using the court system to resolve their difficulties. They do not, by and large, sue people for damages or seek legal recourse for minor infractions. An “Amish Lawyer” would be about as common as a “Shiite Stripper” or a “Hindu Butcher.”
The celebrations of freedom and democracy which lingered after World War II were rapidly fading in favor of fear, suspicion, and a sense of persecuted minority status among the straight white Protestants who still made up nearly 90% of the nation’s population (and virtually 100% of its leadership). Historically, it seems, nothing threatens entrenched demographic power like a handful of outliers thinking their lives matter as well.
Three Big Things:
1. McCollum v. Board of Education was the first Supreme Court case to test the idea of “released time” during the school day for religious instruction by outside groups or religious leaders.
2. The Court’s four different written opinions demonstrate the complexity of applying absolutist rhetoric (“wall of separation”) to specific circumstances without trampling on the rights of local decision-makers.
3. The issues debated in McCollum reappeared in various iterations long after this particular decision and still come up in only slightly modified forms today.
I’ve started putting together information and drafts for something which may or may not be titled “Have To” History: A Wall of Separation (Public School Edition). Call me wacky, but I find this stuff fascinating.
Several years ago, my wife and I moved to northern Indiana from Oklahoma and I started a job at a new school. Day One, first hour, I was about 30 seconds into introducing our opening activity when I was interrupted by announcements via school intercom. “Please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance…”