The law applies to students who attend high school in California for at least three years and graduate. It has benefited both undocumented students and U.S. citizens. In 2008-09, for example, nearly 80 percent of the 2,019 students who qualified under the law for tuition exemptions at UC were U.S. citizens or legal residents. Documented students have accounted for over two-thirds of those benefiting from the exemption in every year since the program's introduction at UC in 2002-03.
"Through their hard work and perseverance, these students have earned the opportunity to attend UC," said Mark G. Yudof, UC's president. "Their accomplishments should not be disregarded or their futures jeopardized."
The lawsuit, Martinez v. Regents of the University of California, was filed as a class action in 2005. It was brought against California's public colleges and universities, including UC, the California State University and the California Community Colleges. The plaintiffs claimed that AB 540 conflicts with federal immigration laws that prohibit states from granting certain post-secondary educational benefits to undocumented aliens on the basis of residency without giving the same benefit to nonresident U.S. citizens. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit also claimed that the state law violates the rights of nonresident students under federal law in violation of the privileges or immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In its unanimous decision today, the California Supreme Court rejected all of those arguments.
"We are very pleased with the California Supreme Court's decision," said Charles Robinson, UC's general counsel and vice president for legal affairs. "The university supported AB 540 because we believe that students who attended and graduated from high school in California but are not legal residents should have an opportunity to get a higher education. We are gratified that the California Supreme Court has agreed that this state law does not conflict with federal law."