February 18, 2015
Professor Frederick W. ODell
Case Brief – Chapter 2 Religion
Case: Zelman v. Simmons-Harris Citation: 536 U.S. 639 Year: 2002
The case was argued February 20, 2002 and decided June 27, 2002. The Chief justice William Rehnquist delivered the court’s decision, joined by Justice O’Connor, Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Thomas. Dissents were delivered by Justice Stevens, Souter, and Breyer.
J. Hessler, Clint Bolick, William Mellor, Richard Komer, Robert Freedman, David Tryon, and Charles Friend filed briefs for petitioners. Solicitor General Olsen argued the cause for the United States urging reversal of the Ohio state Supreme Court decision. Assisting him were Assistant Attorney General McCallum, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Gregory Garre, Robert Loeb, and Lowell Sturgill, JR. Robert Chanin argued the cause for the respondents Simmons-Harris. With him were Andrew Roth, Laurence Gold, Steven Shapiro, Raymond Vasvari, Elliot Mincberg, and Judith Schaeffer. Marvin Frankel argued the cause for the respondents Gatton in all cases.
Cleveland’s public schools have been among the worst performing public schools in the nation. In 1995, a Federal District Court declared a “crisis of magnitude” and placed the entire Cleveland school district under state control. The district had failed to meet any of the 18 standards for minimal acceptable performance. The program provides financial assistance to families in any Ohio school district that is or has been “under federal court order requiring supervision”. Cleveland is the only Ohio school district to fall within that category. The program provides two kinds of assistance to parents of children in a covered district. First the program provider’s tuition aid for students in a kindergarten thru third grade, expanding each year through eighth grade, to attend a participating public or private school of their parents choosing. Second, the program provides tutorial aid for students who choose to remain enrolled in public school. Any private school, whether religious or not, may participate in the program and accept program students as long as the school is located within the boundaries of a covered district and meets statewide educational standards. Families with incomes below 200% of the poverty line are given priority and are eligible to receive 90% of private school tuition, up to a specific amount. For all other families, the program pays 75% of tuition costs. The tutorial aid portion of the program provider tutorial assistance through grants to any students who choose to remain in public school. The amount of available scholarships per covered district is determined annually by the Ohio Superintendent for Public Instruction.
The program has been on operation within the Cleveland City School District since the 1996-97 school years. In the 1999-2000 school year, 56 private schools participated in the program, 46 of which were religiously affiliated. None of the public schools in districts adjacent to Cleveland chose to participate. More than 3,700 students participated in the scholarship programs, most of whom (96$) were enrolled is religious affiliated schools. The number was expected to double in the 1999-2000 school year.
In 1996, respondents, a group of Ohio taxpayers, challenged the Ohio program in state court on state and federal grounds. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected the respondents’ federal claims, but held that the enactment of the program violated certain procedural requirements of the Ohio state constitution on the ground that it violated the Establishment Clause of the United Stated Constitution. In August 1999, the District Court issued a preliminary injunction barring further implementation of the program. In December 1999 the District Court granted summary judgment for respondents. In December 2000, a divided panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the District Court,