The legal theory driving Vergara v. California is based on three main landmark education cases, among other binding case law: Brown v. Board of Education, Serrano v. Priest, and Butt v. State of California.
In its decision in the historic school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court afrmed the vital importance of access to education for a child to succeed in life and held that the state, if it provides access to education, must provide it on equal terms.
In the school funding case, Serrano v. Priest, the California Supreme Court held education to be a “fundamental interest” of the state. Further, the Serrano Court held that any law that impinges upon this interest is subject to strict scrutiny review, whereby the State bears the burden of establishing not only that it has a compelling interest which justifies the harmful law, but also that the law is necessary to further its purpose.
In Butt v. State of California, the California Supreme Court held the State itself ultimately responsible “to ensure that its district-based system of common schools provides basic equality of educational opportunity,” meaning, the State cannot place the blame of constitutional violations at the feet of its school districts.
Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote in his decision in Vergara: “While these cases [(Brown, Serrano I, Serrano II, and Butt)] addressed the issue of a lack of equality of education…, here this Court is directly faced with issues that compel it to apply these constitutional principles to the quality of the educational experience.”
By grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining employment in California public schools, California’s tenure, dismissal and layoff laws, as currently written, cause an unconstitutional and unjustifiable inequality in students’ access to quality education.