Brach v. Newsom, No. 20-56291 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part in an action brought by parents and a student challenging the State of California's extended prohibition on in-person schooling during the Covid-19 pandemic. The panel concluded that, despite recent changes to the State's Covid-related regulations, this case is not moot.
On the merits, the panel held that the district court properly rejected the substantive due process claims of those plaintiffs who challenge California's decision to temporarily provide public education in an almost exclusively online format. The panel explained that both it and the Supreme Court have repeatedly declined to recognize a federal constitutional right to have the State affirmatively provide an education in any particular manner, and plaintiffs have not made a sufficient showing that the panel can or should recognize such a right in this case.
However, in regard to the State's interference in the in-person provision of private education to the children of five of the plaintiffs in this case, the panel concluded that the State's forced closure of their private schools implicates a right that has long been considered fundamental under the applicable caselaw—the right of parents to control their children's education and to choose their children's educational forum. The panel explained that California's ban on in-person schooling abridges a fundamental liberty of these five plaintiffs that is protected by the Due Process Clause, and thus that prohibition can be upheld only if it withstands strict scrutiny. Given the State's closure order's lack of narrow tailoring, the panel cannot say that, as a matter of law, it survives such scrutiny. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment as to these five plaintiffs and remanded for further proceedings.
In regard to plaintiffs' claims under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the panel concluded that the public-school plaintiffs have failed to make a sufficient showing of a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. The panel explained that the challenged distinctions that the State has drawn between public schools and other facilities are subject only to rational-basis scrutiny, and these distinctions readily survive that lenient review. In regard to the private-school plaintiffs, the panel vacated the district court's judgment rejecting their Equal Protection claims and remanded for further consideration in light of the conclusion that the State's actions implicate a fundamental right of those plaintiffs.