Supreme Court upholds in-state tuition for undocumented students

After nearly six years of petitions and appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on Monday that challenged a state law allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at California universities and colleges.

The plaintiffs — 42 former UC, CSU and California Community College students who each paid out-of-state tuition — took issue with California Assembly Bill 540, which was passed in October 2001 and grants in-state tuition for higher education, regardless of citizenship or residency, to students who graduate from a California high school, among other requirements.

The group of students — all of whom are U.S. citizens — filed a formal request Feb. 14 to take their case Martinez et al. v. UC Board of Regents et al. before the Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs contend the board owes them damages equal to the difference between residential and nonresidential tuition and that AB 540 unconstitutionally affords illegal immigrants a financial edge over citizens.

The students claimed AB 540 violated the federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which requires states to provide in-state tuition benefits to all U.S. citizens if such benefits are given to illegal immigrants. However, the California Supreme Court upheld AB 540 in November, overturning a previous decision.

After the lawsuit was filed in December 2005, the case went through nearly six years in the legal system before this week’s final decision.

In 2006, the Yolo County Superior Court ruled in favor of the board. However, that decision was overturned unanimously on Sept. 15, 2008, through the California Court of Appeals 3rd District in Sacramento. In November 2010, the case was brought to the California Supreme Court, where AB 540 was upheld. The plaintiffs then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari — an appeal to a higher court to take up a case — with the U.S. Supreme Court in February.

“We also are gratified that students who have attended and graduated from high school in California and who have achieved the academic accomplishments to qualify for UC will continue to have access to affordable higher education opportunities, irrespective of their immigration status,” said Charles Robinson, the UC’s general counsel and vice president for legal affairs, in a statement.

Ethan Schulman, a lawyer who worked on behalf of the defense, said he was pleased with the outcome and that the Supreme Court’s decision to not review the case will allow AB 540 to continue being implemented by state universities and colleges.

“It recognizes the importance of an affordable college education to California high school graduates, including undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country by their parents as children illegally and are entitled to the same opportunities as other high school graduates,” he said.

However, Michael Brady, a lawyer who represented the plaintiffs, said the ruling was not fair to U.S. citizens.

“The thing that shocks most people when they hear about the case is they can understand why sometimes illegal immigrants and American citizens should be treated equally,” Brady said. “They cannot understand how an American citizen can be treated 400 percent worse than an illegal immigrant — because an American citizen has to pay tuition 400 percent higher than an illegal immigrant … That doesn’t seem fair.”

Allie Bidwell is the news editor.

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  • Craighasser

    I wonder if Mexico will give 40 million dollars of their citizens tax money  to young americans who live there without mexicaqn citizenship?  I work in construction, am self employed,get no unemployment or government benefits,have very little work because my trade has been allowed to be taken over by illegal immigrants. I have been doing the jobs”Americans wont do” for thirty years and I can guarantee I work harder than many of them. My son is college age and now I cant afford it. Im lucky if I can feed my family in this economy.  What kind of government do we have here? I cant afford to go to a doctor because my insurance is too high and so is the deductable. I never hire illegals (when times were better} because I thought it is against the law. When I think of all the tax money Ive paid in for thirty years and then MY OWN GOVERNMENT puts yet another bag over my head just because the democrats think their going to get more votes. I thought People here illegally  werent allowed to vote?  JERRY brown, I DONT EVER WANT TO HEAR HOW THE STATE IS IN FINANCIAL TROUBLE AGAIN!  The democrats have been in charge for 45 years and just look at the condition of our roads for example. This has been all screwed up and turned on its head by liberals and unions. PEOPLE WISE UP AND MAKE A CHANGE!! And people like Gil Sadillo need to move to Mexico and become part of their crooked government because these folks are 100% not working for or looking out for me, a hard working,taxpaying American citizen that doesnt want help from the government but just wants the opportunity to make my own way.  THIS IS WHAT AMERICA WAS FOUNDED  ON!!!!!!!

    • AngelV

      well i’m not sure if you remember your history correctly, but America was founded on IMMIGRANTS LOOKING FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO FIND A BETTER LIFE. and to not give other immigrants a chance to seek what we as Americans fought for long ago seems unconstitutional.

  • Anonymous

     Undocumented students, wherever you are, be proud and never give up on yourselves! I know you wouldn’t since you made it this far but it’s just amazing to think about it all. 

  • Joatokki

    Since they are still illegals, export them out!!! 

  • I encourage all American citizens to boycott the UC system.  Let’s see how they fund it when 90% of the students are illegals on financial aid.

  • did the Supreme Court hear the case and then reject it? Or did it reject the writ?

    • Craighasser

      Any supreme court in California is liberal and will side with this legislation. These judges are not fair but are motivated only by their liberal ideals,.This will have to go all the way to the Federal supreme court. The federal government under Obama doesnt want the states to overide their federal jurisdiction except when it comes to illegal immigrants so dont hold your breath because instead of doing whats right and sticking up for citizens, they would rather try to get more votes. Somehow they think that all of the hispanic vote is pro illegal alien. Ya, they definitely are as transparent as they promised, we can see right through them!