Lansdale v. Tyler Junior College

Decision Date07 November 1972
Docket NumberNo. 71-1775.,71-1775.
Citation470 F.2d 659
PartiesJoe Richard LANSDALE et al., Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. TYLER JUNIOR COLLEGE and Harry E. Jenkins, et al., Defendants-Appellants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit


William S. Reeves, Tyler, Tex., for defendants-appellants.

William H. Kugle, Jr., Athens, Tex., for plaintiffs-appellees.


CLARK, Circuit Judge, with whom MORGAN, Circuit Judge, joins:

Joe Richard Lansdale and two other young men attempted to register for the Fall 1970 Semester at Tyler Junior College, a public institution of the State of Texas. However, because their hair styles did not conform to a particular section of the "Dress Code," a comprehensive set of regulations governing student appearance adopted by the Board of Trustees shortly before the school term, they were not permitted to register. Subsequently, they brought suit in the court below, under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C.A. § 1343, seeking to enjoin the operation and enforcement of the pertinent regulation against themselves and others similarly situated. Fed.R.Civ.P. 23(a)(3). They alleged, inter alia, that the enforcement of the regulation by college officials was arbitrary, unreasonable, and a violation of their right to equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The district judge granted the permanent injunctive relief prayed for. 318 F.Supp. 529 (E.D.Tex.1970). The college appeals. For the various reasons stated in separate concurring opinions, a majority of the court affirms.

Objectively viewed, there are few, if any, fundamental factual distinctions among the individual circumstances of each of the tens of thousands of college students on the hundreds of campuses in this circuit which should affect their respective constitutional statuses vis-a-vis the regulations of the educational institution in which they are enrolled. Thus, the part of Lansdale's collegiate life which can be constitutionally controlled by administrative edict would not be remarkably different if he were enrolled in any other junior or senior college in any other state. In like manner, students enrolled in a myriad of public school institutions in this circuit are, for any conceivable "Dress Code" regulatory purposes, similarly situated.1

In the ultimate analysis, this sameness of the campus life in the respective grade and high school and collegiate environments means that judicial scrutiny of haircut regulations in these institutions almost never calls for what is truly an adjudication of facts. Except in a relative handful of cases where unique situations exist, it is a delusion and a pretense to imagine that the decision in hair length regulation cases can be based upon an objective determination gleaned from testimony by administrators, students or experts. Pragmatically and realistically, the result of the process embodies a particular judge's subjective selection among what he views as competing values. On the one hand, he attaches his own weight of merit and importance to the personal liberty of the student to wear his hair as he wills; then, on the other hand, he assesses his notion of the importance or "relevance" of the authoritarian prerogatives which school administrators have asserted they must exercise to achieve the aims of the particular educational institution. The most important tenet in my reasoning is that the decision either that hair must be cut if the student is to continue his education at the school because the regulation is deemed reasonably related to a legitimate state interest, or that the school must strike the regulation from its records because it has no rational basis and therefore arbitrarily infringes a valid constitutionally protected liberty, is wrongly cast if put in the mold of a determination of fact from record evidence.

So long as these ad hoc appraisals continue, the only hope that both students and school officials who are identically situated will receive meaningful and consistent adjudications of their constitutional positions lies in whatever compulsion for general conformity that may fortuitously exist among independent life-tenured federal judges. This is too faint an anticipation to be acceptable. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees to the student of equal protection and due process, and the Tenth Amendment freedom of the public official to operate the school entrusted to his care in the manner he determines best, free of federal intrusion, each merits more certainty in the law. This need for more uniform treatment of litigants whose fact situations are really identical led the majority of this court in Karr to conclude that a per se rule should be adopted in high school haircut regulation litigation. That rule states that no number of experts opining on the wisdom or folly of such regulations, and no volume of student, parent or school board testimony as to events or motive should provoke a decision voiding a nonarbitrary regulation of hair length on constitutional grounds. Today's case asks that we extend the scope of that per se rule to the college campus. I refuse to do so, not because the college student has constitutional rights which his lesser-educated counterpart lacks, but because as a matter of law the college campus marks the appropriate boundary where the public institution can no longer assert that the regulation of this liberty is reasonably related to the fostering or encouragement of education. The value of the liberty hasn't changed, rather the setting in which it is to be exercised has.

Such line drawing may be attacked as arbitrary. Ofttimes three months, and sometimes only one week, separates the high school senior from the college freshman. It is likewise true that many high school students may find hair regulations so offensive as to prohibit their continued education, while an equal number of college students couldn't care less. But these are not controlling principles. The redeeming virtue of a per se rule, which far outweighs its shortcomings, is that it is more realistic and more equitable in its overall operation than random judicial "fact" fiats that treat one student one way and another virtually identically circumstanced student another. By differentiating between grade and high schools on the one hand and colleges on the other, we bring to academic regulation of hair style as much order as the inherent vagaries of a system of judge-make law will permit.

Basic also to today's decision is the premise that the state has no total right to regulate hair styles, either in general or within the entire framework of public education. There comes a time when its interest in teaching hygiene, instilling discipline, asserting authority and compelling uniformity all become so tenuous as to no longer be reasonably related to, nor effectively fostered by, a haircut regulation.

There are a number of factors which support the proposition that the point between high school and college is the place where the line should be drawn — the place where "the Law stops and just people starts".2 That place is the point in the student's process of maturity where he usually comes within the ambit of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment and the Selective Service Act, where he often leaves home for dormitory life, and where the educational institution ceases to deal with him through parents and guardians. From that day hence, only the presence of an unusual set of factors can justify regulating the length of his hair as a condition precedent to his right to continue to avail himself of public educational opportunities. There may be an extraordinary case where facts really could be produced to demonstrate that hair fetishes had become so distracting as to prevent collegiate scholastics from the normal pursuit of their learning. If it occurs and can be demonstrated, a different result would be warranted.

Today's decision should not be read as modifying the rationale of the majority opinion in Karr. Karr unqualifiedly includes the right of citizens to choose their mode of personal hair grooming within the great host of liberties protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from arbitrary state action. Karr nevertheless concludes that the regulation of that right by high school officials charged with the important state objective of educating young people does not lack a rational basis in a high school setting and therefore does not deprive such students of due process of law.3

Thus, while we reaffirm that Karr is premised on an adjudication that the right of students to go into the world as they please is a constitutionally protected one, Karr is misinterpreted if it be read as providing that such a right is statically absolute throughout every educational experience. Of course it is not. Rather, like the measurement of time and space and like the even more explicit guarantees of the First Amendment, it must be relative. It functions in a variable equation, both with the need of the institution to regulate that right and with the maturity of the student involved.4 What is emphasized in today's decision is that the extent to which it is reasonable to invade personal liberty by the adoption of a haircut regulation changes with true variations between educational situations and types of students. For example, a post-graduate college or adult education classroom is not the same as a kindergarten or a 9th grade homeroom, just as certainly as the 24-year-old post-grad is twice the age of the 12-year-old sixth grader. The motives and motivations of each are entirely different. Today the court affirms that the adult's constitutional right to wear his hair as he chooses supersedes the State's right to intrude.5 The place where the line of...

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36 cases
  • Ingraham v. Wright
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit
    • January 8, 1976 find due process and equal protection violations in a variety of circumstances involving schools, e.g., Lansdale v. Tyler Junior College, 470 F.2d 659 (5th Cir. 1972) (en banc) (potential college students not allowed to register because of hair length), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 986, 93 S.C......
  • Fagan v. National Cash Register Company
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • June 29, 1973
    ...alleges the constitutional invalidity of a high school hair and grooming regulation."7 A variant was next considered in Landsdale v. Tyler Jr. College, 470 F.2d 659, where the Fifth Circuit again sat en banc. The Court's opinion, October 4, 1972, noted that the college was a public institut......
  • Wiley v. National Collegiate Athletic Ass'n
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • December 17, 1979
    ...(9th Cir. 1974); Mitchell v. Louisiana High School Athletic Ass'n, 430 F.2d 1155, 1158 (5th Cir. 1970). Cf. Lansdale v. Tyler Junior College, 470 F.2d 659, 662 (5th Cir. 1972), Cert. denied, 411 U.S. 986, 93 S.Ct. 2268, 36 L.Ed.2d 964 (1973) (hair code). If our previous cases, relied upon i......
  • Littlefield v. Forney Ind. School Dist.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas
    • August 3, 2000
    ...the mission of primary and secondary school education. Karr v. Schmidt, 460 F.2d 609, 613-614 (5th Cir. 1972); Lansdale v. Tyler Junior College, 470 F.2d 659, 663 (5th Cir.1972); Ferrell v. Dallas Ind. School Dist., 392 F.2d 697, 702-703; Domico v. Rapides Parish School Bd., 675 F.2d 100 (5......
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1 books & journal articles
  • The Supreme Court of Texas from 1989-1998: independence determined by six-year terms.
    • United States
    • Albany Law Review Vol. 62 No. 4, June 1999
    • June 22, 1999
    ...kind. Caps and hats not a part of women's formal attire may not be worn in the building." Id. (289) See Lansdale v. Tyler Junior College, 470 F.2d 659, 663 (5th Cir. 1972) (distinguishing college students from high school students in holding the length or style of students' hair is not a le......

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