Brown v. Board of Education
347 U.S. 483 (1954)
349 U.S. 294 (1955)
After Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537 (1896)) held that segregation
was not a per se violation of the Equal Protection Clause of
the 14th Amendment,
public schools in the South remained segregated.
Plessy was based on the idea that "equal"
doesn't mean "integrated" and as long as the facilities were
equal, the 14th Amendment was theoretically satisfied.
However, in almost all
cases, facilities provided to black students were substantially inferior
to those provided to white students.
Brown et. al. filed a class
action suit in Topeka claiming that the segregation was a violation of Equal
This was mostly a test case.
The facilities for students in Topeka were roughly equal, and Brown was
challenging the concept of segregation in general.
If the schools had been
unequal, a court could rule narrowly and say that segregation was fine,
but that the schools for minorities just needed to be improved.
The Trial Court found for the
Board of Education. Brown appealed.
The Trial Court found that Plessy was still controlling law on the issue.
The Court found that schools
in Topeka were substantially equal with respect to buildings,
transportation, curricular, and educational qualifications of teachers.
The US Supreme Court combined
a number of similar cases, and granted certiorari.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and found that racial segregation was unconstitutional.
The US Supreme Court found
that segregation was an unconstitutional violation of the Equal
Protection Clause, even when the
segregated facilities appeared equal.
The Court found that even if
objective factors were equalized, intangible issues foster and maintain
This causes a detrimental
effect on minorities because it is interpreted as a sign of inferiority.
The Court remanded the case
back to the Trial Court to determine the property remedy.
That proved to be quite
controversial, and ended up back at the US Supreme Court a year later.
At issue was what to do
about the fact that races tended to be geographically separated, so
even if you didn't actively segregate schools, they tended to naturally
segregate. The final answer was bussing students around to school
districts far from home.
While almost everyone would
agree today that segregation is wrong, this case remains controversial
because the decision relied on social science data about the psychological
effects of segregation that turned out to be flawed.
Some 'originalists' argue
that the 14th Amendment
is about 'equality', not 'integration', and that segregation is
constitutionally permissible based on a literal reading of the
Constitution, assuming you could absolutely guarantee that the facilities