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Due Process Of Law?

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Due Process Of Law?


Due process of law
Due process of law-United States


Newspaper article about the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause and its applicability to actions taken by state agencies. Colleges, categorized as state agencies, should conform to the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause regarding student discipline.


Mello, Michael A.


The Bullet


HIST 298, University of Mary Washington




The materials in this online collection are held by Special Collections, Simpson Library, University of Mary Washington and are available for educational use. For this purpose only, you may reproduce materials without prior permission on the condition that you provide attribution of the source.


300 dpi




Fredericksburg, VA

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Are students entitled to due process of law? The Handbook provides that “all members of the College community have the right to due process in matters concerning discipline or status as members of the College community.” But Kathy Mayer has proven that the Handbook and the S.A. Constitution are essentially worthless; she has shown that even the sections of those documents which are clear and straightforward may be perverted by bizarre feats of semantic acrobatics. Joint Council last year (in the Madison case) and President Woodard this year (in the Westmoreland Four case) have indicated that the Handbook guarantee of due process is equally empty. Yet there is a somewhat more authoritative document guaranteeing us due process of law.

Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law; nor to deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The question is whether Mary Washington College is bound by law to conform to these strictures. I believe that it is.

Justice Bradley wrote in the Civil Rights Cases that “it is State action of a particular character that is prohibited. Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject of the Amendment.” For example, the right to life is protected by the Amendment, but only against improper deprivation by the state. A private murder would not fit the requirements, but a lynching done under the auspices of police officers would. Thus, the emphasis here will be on an elaboration of the concept of “state action.”

The Court early began the extension of the idea of state action to cover not only legislative action, but also action of the judicial and executive branches as well. And there was a vertical extension to include all of the governmental units subordinate to the State. The Court has found violators of the Amendment by the state courts (in Ex parte Virginia), legislatures (in Strouder v. West Virginia), executives (in Sterling v. Constantin), tax boards (in Raymond v. Chicago Union Traction Co.), boards of education (in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette), and even private enterprises that receive state aid (in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority). When any officer or employee of the state or any of its subordinate governmental units acts in pursuance of his official function, then there is state action within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.

One facet of the problem of delineating state action appears in the classification of the private owned and managed operation which receives financial aid from the state. Is the act of such a body an act of the state or is it a private act for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment? Obviously, a categorical answer is impossible; it would be a rather absord doctrine which would consider as state agents all people on relief, unemployed persons benefitting from state compensation plans, etc. But what of enterprises that began as purely private, but which have become so enmeshed with the agencies of state government through grants or other special governmental treatment that they take on the character of state institutions? The Supreme Court established 30 years ago that these agencies are to be considered state agencies for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The case involved the status of Enoch Pratt Free Library, in Baltimore, Maryland. Louisa Kerr, a Negro, sued for damages and injunctive relief, asserting that she was refused admission to a training course conducted by the library. She charged that the library was performing a governmental function, that she was rejected solely because of her race, and that such rejection constituted state action prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. The library defended on the ground that it was a private corporation. In deciding Kerr v. Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Supreme Court held that the library’s action was in fact state action within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The parallels between Enoch Pratt Free Library and Mary Washington College are obvious; for the purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment, both institutions are identical. This being the case, the actions of the Administration and other campus agencies in matters of discipline must conform to the Fourteenth Amendment’s “due process” clause and all that it implies.


Original Format


Contributor of the Digital Item

MacIndoe, Kathleen

Student Editor of the Digital Item

Williams, Megan




Mello, Michael A., “Due Process Of Law?,” HIST298, accessed April 20, 2021, http://hist298.umwhistory.org/items/show/22.