UC Law Constitutional Quarterly


Our Founders specifically identified education as necessary to economic success and full participation in our democracy and society. However, the Supreme Court held in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez that education in America is not a constitutional right; instead, it is a commodity that few can afford. Then, in 2023, Biden v. Nebraska exposed the direct result of that ruling: the average American––regardless of their disability status––struggles to pay back their student loans, even when they have a well-paying job. The student debt crisis significantly impacts the economic future of students with disabilities, who make on average sixty-six cents on the dollar even if they complete their education and do secure employment. I attribute this gap to decades of judicial and legislative actions– –from Pierce v. Society of Sisters and Sutton v. United Air Lines, Inc. to the convoluted language of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973––that have entrenched ablism and stigma in our educational system and workspaces, forcing people with disabilities to work twice as hard to fare half as well. These systemic barriers have made the promise that education will guarantee economic security a false promise for hardworking people with disabilities. By failing to protect people with disabilities and their communities, we have not only prevented qualified people with disabilities from attending our top-ranking schools and accessing the myriad of professional and personal opportunities that come with that experience, but these systemic inequalities have also held all of us back from achieving our full potential as individuals and a nation. We have been actively undermining the Founders’ vision for decades by increasing the cost of education and exclusivity of our job market to the detriment of all, particularly those with disabilities. But, we have the tools to right our wrongs if we have the courage to use them.

In this Article, I identify how the evolution of education in America entrenched the “able-body standard” in our society, disability jurisprudence, and legal system as a whole. I advocate for everyone––from lawmakers and judges to educators and employers––to embrace theories championed by the disability activist community so that all people, with and without disabilities, can, in short, attain the American Dream.