J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 23, 2019

Tomorrow, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear a case asking whether the First Amendment protects teachers’ right to teach and students’ right to learn.

Bob Smith runs Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School (PCHS) just outside of Sacramento, Ca. He teaches aspiring farriers how to shoe horses. For students with limited formal education, trade schools like PCHS are traditionally the most accessible path to the middle class. But because of a California law requiring vocational schools like Bob’s to require students have a high school diploma, or pass an equivalency test, he has to turn away many prospective students, including Esteban Narez.

In April 2017, Esteban applied to PCHS after learning about it through a farrier. But California law required Bob to deny Esteban’s application because he never finished high school. Years earlier, Esteban had been forced to leave high school early in his senior year to recover from a tear in the medial collateral ligament (MCL) of his knee. That makes Esteban an “ability-to-benefit” student under state law, meaning he would have to pass a government-approved test that has nothing to do with horseshoeing before PCHS could teach him to shoe horses. Like many working-class Californians who fell on hard times, Esteban has neither the time nor resources to waste on a useless test.

Bob and Esteban partnered with the Institute for Justice to file a lawsuit challenging the California law as a violation of their First Amendment rights to teach and to learn.

“Just because a teacher gets paid for teaching, it doesn’t mean they lose their First Amendment rights,” said IJ Senior Attorney Paul Avelar. “By limiting who Bob is allowed to teach and what Esteban is allowed to learn, California has not only harmed the students most in need of an education, but also violated their First Amendment rights.”


DATE/TIME:    Thursday, October 24, 2019 at 9:00 a.m.


James  Browning Courthouse
Courtroom 1
3rd Floor Rm. 338
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
95 7th Street,
San Francisco, CA 94103


  • Bob Smith, Owner of Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School
  • Paul Avelar, Senior Attorney, Institute for Justice
  • Keith Diggs, Attorney, Institute for Justice