Access to Courts
DeFunis v. Odegaard
416 U.S. 312 (1974)
After being denied admission to a state-operated law school, petitioner brought this suit on behalf of himself alone for injunctive relief, claiming that the school's admissions policy racially discriminated against him in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The trial court agreed and ordered the school to admit him in the fall of 1971. The Washington Supreme Court reversed, holding that the school's admissions policy was not unconstitutional. MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, as Circuit Justice, stayed that judgment pending this Court's final disposition of the case, with the result that petitioner was in his final school year when this Court considered his petition for certiorari. After oral argument, the Court was informed that petitioner had registered for his final quarter. Respondents have assured the Court that this registration is fully effective regardless of the ultimate disposition of the case. Held: Because petitioner will complete law school at the end of the term for which he has registered regardless of any [***2] decision this Court might reach on the merits, the Court cannot, consistently with the limitations of Art. III of the Constitution, consider the substantive constitutional issues, and the case is moot.
(a) Mootness here does not depend upon a "voluntary cessation" of the school's admissions practices but upon the simple fact that petitioner is in his final term, and the school's fixed policy to permit him to complete the term.
(b) The case presents no question that is "capable of repetition, yet evading review," since petitioner will never again have to go through the school's admissions process, and since it does not follow that the issue petitioner raises will in the future evade review merely because this case did not reach the Court until the eve of petitioner's graduation.