Meyer v. Nebraska
262 U.S. 390 (1923)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923)

Meyer v. State of Nebraska

No. 325

Argued February 23, 1923

Decided June 4, 1923

262 U.S. 390

Syllabus

A state law forbidding, under penalty, the teaching in any private, denominational, parochial or public school, of any modern language, other than English, to any child who has not attained and successfully

Page 262 U. S. 391

passed the eighth grade, invades the liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and exceeds the power of the State. P. 262 U. S. 399.

So held where the statute was applied in punishment of an instructor who taught reading in German, to a child of ten years, in a parochial school.

107 Neb. 657, reversed.

ERROR to a judgment of the Supreme Court of Nebraska affirming a conviction for infraction of a statute against teaching of foreign languages to young children in schools.

Page 262 U. S. 396

Primary Holding
Due process does not allow a state to prohibit teaching children any language other than English.
Facts
Meyer, a teacher, taught German to a 10-year-old child. He was convicted of violating a Nebraska law that prohibited teaching any language other than English.

Opinions

Majority

  • James Clark McReynolds (Author)
  • William Howard Taft
  • Joseph McKenna
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
  • Willis Van Devanter
  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis
  • Pierce Butler
  • Edward Terry Sanford
  • George Sutherland

The Fourteenth Amendment vision of liberty includes the right of a teacher to teach German and the right of parents to control the upbringing of their children as they see fit. While the state has a legitimate interest in encouraging the growth of a homogenous population that can engage in discussions of civic matters, the means that it has chosen to pursue this objective is excessive.

Case Commentary

This law probably derived from the First World War, when nationalist sentiment ran high. It could be constitutional during wartime or emergency to ban teaching foreign languages in the interest of protecting American ideals.

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