The United States Constitution

How and why did the framers distribute power in the Constitution?

4.1 Introduction

One February morning in 1971, Dwight Lopez headed off to his classes at Central High School in Columbus, Ohio. Things had been tense at school lately. Students were in shock over the recent shooting of two African American students by whites. Many were also upset about the school's cancellation of Black History Week celebrations. These events would help to provoke a major disturbance at school that day.

Like many American cities in the early 1970s, Columbus was experiencing social upheaval. Growing opposition to the Vietnam War was fueling large antiwar demonstrations. At the same time, racial tensions were high. Despite the gains made by the civil rights movement in the 1960s, most African Americans had yet to experience any real social or economic progress. Many blacks blamed racism for their lack of advancement. In the Columbus public schools, racial conflict was increasing.

On that day in February, tensions boiled over and violence erupted in the school cafeteria. School property was destroyed, and 75 students were given ten-day suspensions from school. One of those students was Dwight Lopez. He claimed that he was an innocent bystander who just happened to be in the cafeteria when the incident occurred. But the school refused to hear his appeal.

In response, Lopez took the school district to court, claiming his constitutional right to due process of law had been violated. Due process, guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth amendments to the Constitution, requires that those accused of a crime be given a fair hearing and the chance to defend themselves. But this right had never been applied in schools.

The Ohio courts decided in favor of Lopez and eight other students who joined in the case. But the school district appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. This case, now called Goss v. Lopez, would help to define the rights of students – and therefore your rights – under the Constitution.

Next Section: 4.2 (Elements of the Constitution)