Volume 72, Number 1

April 1997

Youth Curfews and the Trilogy of Parent, Child, and State Relations

Gregory Z. Chen

In 1923, Justice McReynolds, writing for the Supreme Court in Meyer v. Nebraska, noted that the state’s involvement in the development and upbringing of minors extended deep into the history of Western civilization: “In order to submerge the individual and develop ideal citizens, Sparta assembled the males at seven into barracks and intrusted their subsequent education and training to official guardians.” Employing this example of ancient history primarily as an heuristic device, Justice McReynolds declared that the society and government of Sparta were “wholly different from those upon which our institutions rest”–the critical difference being the two societies’ divergent conceptions of the relation between the individual and the state. The United States Constitution, he concluded, barred restrictions as severe as those used in Sparta.