Brown v. Board of Education

Aug 29 18:29 2010 Nick DAlleva Print This Article

Hailed as one of the most influential legal cases of the twentieth century, Brown v. Board of Education was instrumental in the destruction of the idea of "separate but equal" educational movement.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,Guest Posting Kansas stands as one of the most influential cases of the twentieth century in the United States legal system.  Brought to the Supreme Court via a conglomeration of lawsuits by the NAACP in 1953, Brown v. Board of Education drastically changed the social climate of the United States, specifically in the southern states.  As decided by the Warren Court, Brown v. Board of Education is a landmark case in not only United States law, but in the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century as well.  Chief Justice Warren used a variety of argument in order to overrule the previously decided Supreme Court Case of Plessey v. Ferguson, but none more important than the claim that “separate but equal” educational facilities are inherently unequal and therefore contrary to the Constitution of the United States.  Warren also cited the case of Sweatt v. Painter as a distinct legal precedent for the decision, observing that the concept of separate but equal facilities had already been deemed unconstitutional.  In implementing the landmark decision, the Supreme Court requested swift action from the localities in compliance with the new legal precedent.  Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas was not the only legal case regarding segregation, nor was it the only successful one, but the victories it won for the Civil Rights Movement will forever place it among the most important Supreme Court Cases of all time.

Chief Justice Warren used a variety of rationale to support the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in favor of Brown in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.  However, the most important of all these reasons is undoubtedly the claim by Warren that the separate but equal facilities maintained by many southern states as a requirement were inherently unequal by the fact that they separated students by an unquantifiable difference, and thus the doctrine itself was completely unconstitutional.  Warren claimed that the separate but equal doctrine, although upheld in the previous case of Plessey v. Ferguson, was completely unconstitutional due to the legal precedents of the time.  Most influential of these legal precedents was the case of Sweatt v. Painter, in which a man sued the state of Texas for barring him from law school under the condition that he was black.  Though the defense argued that the state of Texas provided a more than adequate black law school, the Supreme Court ruled that since the equality of two graduate facilities could not be accurately measured, it was impossible to determine whether the educational facilities were, in fact, equal, under the eyes of the law.  This vague concept of educational equality was the very concept upon which Chief Justice Warren rested his entire verdict.  Since no determination could be made to an educational facility, as preceded in Sweatt v. Painter, Warren reasoned that Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas was clearly a case to overturn Plessey v. Ferguson entirely.  Through the ideology that one cannot determine the equality of an educational facility, whether graduate, as confronted in Sweatt v. Painter, or elementary, as addressed in the case Brown v. Board of Education, the case of Plessey v. Ferguson, which has allowed segregation in schools for over half a century, was overturned, and with it, an entire way of life in many of the southern states.

Though the second Brown case demanded that all schools comply with the court’s decision “with all deliberate speed”, many localities chose to ignore this mandate for many years following the verdict.  Many argue that the Supreme Court was entirely too vague in its language as it demanded desegregation of all schools in the United States, and that the phrase, “with all deliberate speed” failed to set a manageable timetable for desegregation.  In short, the desegregation decided in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, was not strongly implemented following the verdict, but rather, it appeared as if the Supreme Court lazily attempted to enforce its earlier landmark decision.  Adding to these claims is the fact that many school districts, mostly in the southern states, refused to integrate their schools at all following the verdict, as was the case with the school district of Prince Edward County, Virginia, which the U.S. District Court ruled did not have to segregate immediately due to the language used in the second case of Brown.  Since the Supreme Court was incredibly vague regarding the way in which it demanded integration, many school districts used this language as a justification for resisting the original ruling which demanded integration.  The implementation of the Brown case was slower than previously imagined, and made desegregation an ongoing process, rather than an immediate mandate, and essentially allowed the southern states to maintain the status quo in society for many years after the decision while presenting the illusion of progress with a handful of desegregated schools.

The Supreme Courts ultimate method of implementation of the Brown decision was incredibly inappropriate for the magnitude of the original case.  Rather than mandating that schools desegregate immediately, the Supreme Court chose rather to allow its language to remain vague, allowing many of the southern states to resist integration for many years after the official ruling.  Through this implementation, many school districts used this vague language as a legal excuse for resisting the original ruling for longer than necessary, and the fact that the Supreme Court left such an important decision up to such liberal interpretation is rather shocking when the importance of the case in United States legal history is considered.  The implementation had far reaching consequences on the southern states and its society.  Rather than drastically changing the southern way of life immediately, the Supreme Court allowed many of the southern states to maintain the status quo long after the official ruling of the Supreme Court officially prevented them from doing so. The fact that the Supreme Court used such vague language was an incredible miscalculation on the part of the Justices, and allowed their important ruling to go ignored and unabided for many years after its verdict.

The importance of the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas cannot be lost on any student of the American legal system.  It was one of only approximately two hundred times in which the Supreme Court has deemed a previous ruling of the court to be incorrect, and in doing so, it changed an entire way of life in the United States.  The concept that “separate but equal” facilities were inherently unequal in the eyes of the Constitution allowed Chief Justice Warren to rule in favor of Brown, and in doing so, overturned the political policy of segregation in the south.  Warren also cited a variety of legal precedents, including the case of Sweatt v. Painter, which addressed the issue of segregation in graduate education, and deemed that the unquantifiable nature of equal facilities rendered the policy unconstitutional.  The implementation of the ruling, however, was much less revolutionary than the ruling itself, and the vague language it contained allowed many school districts to resist the ruling for years after it was created.  This was one of the key errors of the Warren court in the case of Brown.  Through an analysis of this case, one can easily see its influential nature on not only American society at the time, but American history for all times.

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Nick DAlleva
Nick DAlleva

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