Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Corporal punishment has been employed to maintain discipline and order in American schools since the colonial period.' During that era, the practice was not restricted to the classroom: corporal punishment was the generally accepted mode of correction for practically every civil and criminal offense. Attitudes toward correction did not begin to change until after the American Revolution. Since then, corporal punishment has been steadily discarded as a method of correction in both prisons and the military. Despite discontinuance in these areas, corporal punishment remains a well-established facet of the American educational process. Only a few states and municipalities have legislative prohibitions against the use of this disciplinary method in their public schools, and the courts consistently have rejected constitutional challenges to provisions authorizing its use...

As representative bodies,legislatures theoretically enact and amend the laws as changes in societal attitudes dictate. Resolution of the question whether corporal punishment should be used as a means of disciplining schoolchildren requires basic value judgments that courts are ill-equipped to make. Nonetheless, to the extent that a form of punishment has constitutional implications, the judicial function must be exercised. Challenges to the constitutionality of corporal punishment have commonly relied upon four theories: cruel and unusual punishment,the parental rights doctrine, procedural due process, and substantive due process. The first three issues have been resolved formally by the Supreme Court of the United States. The substantive due process issue, however, has been determined conclusively only in the Fifth Circuit.

This Note will first review these four issues as they have confronted the lower courts and then will analyze Ingraham v. Wright,"in which the Supreme Court ruled on the cruel and unusual punishment and procedural due process issues. Discussion will center on the substantive due process issue, suggesting the feasibility of a suit challenging the practice as administered in a given instance.