Judge Michael Moore Strikes Down Florida Law As Equal Protection Violation

BY BRYAN VEGA — Three weeks ago, on August 31, 2012, Southern District of Florida Judge Michael Moore struck down a Florida law denying in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The Florida law at issue affected American citizens. Specifically, it was aimed at dependent children of undocumented immigrants, even those who had obtained American citizenship themselves, either through birth in this country or other means. In cooperation with the students themselves, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed suit to invalidate the law.

The State of Florida argued that the law should be upheld. Florida claimed that its interest in protecting the public coffers and maintaining the quality of public post-secondary education justified its discriminatory policy. Florida further claimed that invalidating the law would force it to offer in-state tuition rates “to all United States citizens regardless of their State of residency.”

Judge Moore didn’t buy it. Judge Moore characterized Florida’s arguments as based on a “flawed interpretation” of the current law and the Constitution. Judge Moore found that invalidating the law “would not prevent the State from continuing to distinguish between in-state residents and out-of-state non-residents.”

Using a heightened form of scrutiny, Judge Moore concluded that the “relationship between Plaintiffs’ residency, their parents’ immigration status, and the State’s interest in providing quality public post-secondary education is far too tenuous to justify the State’s regulations.” The law, as applied, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as it denied “plaintiffs the same benefits and important opportunities as similarly situated individuals by virtue of their parents’ undocumented immigration status.”

It is unclear whether Florida will appeal. Still, this is a case worth watching. Post-secondary education is becoming increasingly imperative in today’s society. Individuals with a college degree earn higher salaries and are less susceptible to unemployment.

Judge Moore, then, got the case right. Whether the 11th Circuit, or even perhaps the Supreme Court, will agree, remains to be seen.

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