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U.S. Supreme Court

Cochran v. Louisiana State Board of Education, 281 U.S. 370 (1930)

Cochran v. Louisiana State Board of Education

No. 468

Argued April 15, 1930

Decided April 28, 1930

281 U.S. 370



Appropriation by the money derived from taxation to the supplying of school books free for children in private as well as public schools is not objectionable under the Fourteenth Amendment as a taking of private property for private purposes where the books furnished for private schools are not granted to the schools themselves, but only to or for the use of the children, and are the same as those furnished for public schools, and are not religious or sectarian in character. P. 281 U. S. 374.

168 La. 1030, affirmed.

Appeal from a decree of the Supreme Court of Louisiana affirming the refusal of a trial court to issue an injunction to restrain the state Board of Education and certain officials, appellees herein, from expending tax funds for the purchase of free school books.

Page 281 U. S. 373

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellants, as citizens and taxpayers of the State of Louisiana, brought this suit to restrain the state Board of Education and other state officials from expending any part of the severance tax fund in purchasing school books and in supplying them free of cost to the school children of the state, under Acts No. 100 and No. 143 of 1928, upon the ground that the legislation violated specified provisions of the Constitution of the state and also § 4 of Article IV and the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution. The supreme court of the state affirmed the judgment of the trial court, which refused to issue an injunction. 168 La. 1030.

Page 281 U. S. 374

Act No. 100 of 1928 provided that the severance tax fund of the state, after allowing funds and appropriations as required by the state constitution, should be devoted "first, to supplying school books to the school children of the state." The Board of Education was directed to provide "school books for school children free of cost to such children." Act No. 143 of 1928 made appropriations in accordance with the above provisions.

The supreme court of the state, following its decision in Borden v. Louisiana State Board of Education, 168 La. 1005, 123 So. 655, held that these acts were not repugnant to either the state or the federal Constitution.

No substantial federal question is presented under § 4 of Article IV of the federal Constitution guaranteeing to every state a republican form of government, as questions arising under this provision are political, not judicial, in character. Ohio ex rel. Bryant v. Akron Metropolitan Park District, 281 U. S. 74, and cases there cited.

The contention of the appellant under the Fourteenth Amendment is that taxation for the purchase of school books constituted a taking of private property for a private purpose. Citizens' Sav. & Loan Association v. Topeka, 20 Wall. 655. The purpose is said to be to aid private, religious, sectarian, and other schools not embraced in the public educational system of the state by furnishing textbooks free to the children attending such private schools. The operation and effect of the legislation in question were described by the supreme court of the state as follows (168 La. p. 1020):

"One may scan the acts in vain to ascertain where any money is appropriated for the purchase of school books for the use of any church, private, sectarian, or even public school. The appropriations were made for the specific purpose of purchasing school books for the use of the school children of the state, free of cost to them. It was

Page 281 U. S. 375

for their benefit and the resulting benefit to the state that the appropriations were made. True, these children attend some school, public or private, the latter, sectarian or nonsectarian, and that the books are to be furnished them for their use, free of cost, whichever they attend. The schools, however, are not the beneficiaries of these appropriations. They obtain nothing from them, nor are they relieved of a single obligation, because of them. The school children and the state alone are the beneficiaries. It is also true that the sectarian schools, which some of the children attend, instruct their pupils in religion, and books are used for that purpose, but one may search diligently the acts, though without result, in an effort to find anything to the effect that it is the purpose of the state to furnish religious books for the use of such children. . . . What the statutes contemplate is that the same books that are furnished children attending public schools shall be furnished children attending private schools. This is the only practical way of interpreting and executing the statutes, and this is what the state board of education is doing. Among these books, naturally, none is to be expected adapted to religious instruction."

The court also stated, although the point is not of importance in relation to the federal question, that it was "only the use of the books that is granted to the children, or, in other words, the books are lent to them."

Viewing the statute as having the effect thus attributed to it, we cannot doubt that the taxing power of the state is exerted for a public purpose. The legislation does not segregate private schools, or their pupils, as its beneficiaries, or attempt to interfere with any matters of exclusively private concern. Its interest is education, broadly; its method, comprehensive. Individual interests are aided only as the common interest is safeguarded.

Judgment affirmed.

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