AUSTIN - The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently upheld Texas’s Hazlewood Act, which waives public state university tuition for honorably discharged veterans who enlisted in Texas.
To qualify for the 150 hours of tuition-free credit, veterans must have entered military service at a location in Texas, been a resident of Texas while enlisting, or declared the state as their home of record on their military records.
Following the court’s June 3 ruling, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement calling the opinion a victory for the state’s sovereignty.
“Texas passed the Hazlewood Act in 1923 to ensure the continued success of Texas military veterans who honorably served the United States,” said Paxton.
“Education is vital in their transition back to civilian life and today’s ruling allows Texas to exercise its sovereign right to encourage Texas students to finish high school, volunteer for military service, and bring their skills back to Texas to pursue higher education.
“As the Court agreed, the State clearly has a rational basis for the qualifications set forth in the Hazlewood Act. This win is an affirmation of the Texas Legislature’s authority to establish State policy, as well as a win for taxpayers and veterans.”
The ruling stems from a challenge brought by Keith Harris, a current Texas resident and former Army veteran, honorably discharged, who enlisted in Georgia.
After being denied Hazlewood Act benefits, Harris sued seeking declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the University of Houston to grant him a tuition waiver for his remaining semesters, court records show.
A district court granted summary judgment in Harris’s favor, concluding that Texas lacked a rational basis for its fixed-point residency requirement.
On appeal, Harris argued Texas’s fixed-point residency requirement is an impermissible restraint on his constitutional right to travel.
Justices disagreed, reversing the district court’s ruling.
“Because Texas has presented a rational basis for its residency-at-enlistment requirement and because Texas’s decision to impose the condition on a portable benefit does not infringe Harris’s right to travel, we reverse the district court’s judgment,” states the Fifth Circuit’s opinion.
“Texas has provided reasonable justifications for the qualifications used in the Hazlewood Act to advance its interests in promoting education and military service.
“Our task only permits us to assess whether Texas exceeded its constitutional power when it included a fixed-point residency requirement in the Hazlewood Act not to opine on whether the limitation is wise as a matter of public policy.
“Without a clearer indication from the Supreme Court that Texas’s decisions violate constitutional provisions, we are hesitant to impose further restrictions on the sovereign power of the State to regulate its own education system.”
Case No. 15-20105