The Supreme Court Ideologies

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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“The Supreme Court has “neither the power of the purse nor the sword, and it must rely on the other branches of government as well as its own moral authority to enforce its decisions.” The legal system uses four ideologies to view how society should work and be. These ideologies are the English Common Law, Republicanism, Classical Liberalism, and Progressivism. These ideologies are constant battles in the Court because different Justices choose different ideologies and there is never one that they stick within every case.

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In the early 1940s, there was a belief that because things were changing in the U.S., there was a possibility of using the U.S. Supreme Court to protect African American rights. The U.S. Supreme Court retracted from its role to decide Brown v. Board of Education, although the case was a justified grab for political power by the U.S. Supreme Court because the Courts’ way of interpreting the law changed as it started to focus on using the Constitution to protect minority rights.

The NAACP legal defense fund used the law to protect African American rights, something that wasn’t done before. The NAACP legal defense fund established the Margold Plan to gather evidence from trial courts to say that southern laws are discriminatory. For example, the NAACP started bringing different types of suits to attack the vision of separate but equal. The first cases that attacked this vision were the graduate school cases. In these graduate school cases, the Court started to question whether these schools were truly equal, moving their focus on the entire educational experience. The first case that changed the vision of separate but equal is Brown v. Board of Education, in which the Court questioned whether segregation in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In Brown v. Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall used a witness to testify in the courts as evidence to show that segregated schools cause African American children to feel inferior. The social science data presented in the case was the “Doll Test,” in which a social scientist let African American children play with either white dolls or black dolls. He observed what doll the African American children would choose to play with. Eventually, African American children played with white dolls and never with black dolls. The “Doll Test” showed that African American children felt like the white dolls were superior and therefore segregated schools were causing harm. From this “Doll Test,” Marshall concluded that segregation in schools caused a feeling of inferiority to African American children. The Supreme Court then concluded that school segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment based on this “Doll Test.” In deciding Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court dismissed the three out of the four ideologies; English Common Law, Republicanism, and Classical Liberalism and sided with a weak argument for Progressivism.

Others might argue that because the Court violated Common Law, Republican, Classical Liberal norms, and justified its decision with a weak argument to social science, it exceeded its limits to what it can do and was an unjustified grab for political power. However, by ignoring these ideologies and using the weak argument to social science let the Supreme Court focus on how society changed, the Equal Protection and our values for the meaning for equality, therefore making inequality unconstitutional; violating the Equal Protection Clause.

The English Common Law is the idea that judges have a special role in society. It is the belief that judges have an ability to look at social problems and have a result that they can get to. Instead of focusing on the needs of the people, judges focus on what is justice. Judges also focus on the doctrine of precedent, the idea that once a case has been decided, that case should control future cases when judges run into the same issue. Brown v. Board of Education did not follow this Common Law ideology because the Court overturned the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson without making it clear that it did. The Court got around the ruling in Plessy and did not follow this precedent. According to the Common Law ideology, this precedent should be applied to Brown since the issue was related. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court concluded that the 14th Amendment doesn’t stop the State from having separate but equal facilities. One of the arguments in Brown was this question of, does the Court have to overturn Plessy to rule in favor of Brown. Justice Brown in Plessy says, “..the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction appointed.” He is saying that the law doesn’t create this inferiority but that African Americans put that upon themselves. Chief Justice Warren due to the social science argument in Brown, says that Justice Brown is wrong and says that the segregated school laws do create a sense of inferiority and that violates the Equal Protection Clause. The Supreme Court claims that it did not overturn Plessy, but lower courts later interpreted Brown as doing so and the Court affirmed in a series of Per Curiam Opinions. In a Common Law view, the Supreme Court should’ve confirmed what it had said in Plessy v. Ferguson, since the Court didn’t it was unjustified, however, if the Court would’ve done this, there wouldn’t have been an integration of schools, but because the NAACP legal defense pushed for this, by bringing the social science experiment, claiming that it is unequal and African Americans deserve equal rights, the Court had to dismiss what it had said in Plessy v. Ferguson.

Republicanism says that the purpose of the government is not to maintain the power of the small elite but instead meet the needs of citizens. Under Republicanism, the legislature acts in pursuant to the Constitution and the Court should defer to the Constitution and the legislative branches to decide the case. Brown v. Board of Education doesn’t follow this republic ideology as the Court refuses to look at the history of the 14th Amendment. John W. Davis, U.S. Solicitor General, interprets the historical interpretation of the 14th Amendment, saying that the State should have control over their school systems and decide whether to keep the schools segregated or not. Thurgood Marshall ignores the intent of the framers of the 14th Amendment and says that the only way to have a rational basis for school segregation is if African Americans are inferior and are not equal citizens. Instead of using the history of the 14th Amendment, the case focuses on two rationales to argue that the Southern schools could not constitutionally segregate. These two rationales remove the States from having control of the education system. One of them is that the meaning of education changed. Education as a social construct change; education as, “the most important function of state and local government. It is the very foundation of good citizenship.” The other rationale was that the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause changed; equality means something different than how equality meant in Plessy v. Ferguson. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court decides that the 14th Amendment’s history is “not enough to resolve the problem with which we are faced.” The Court had to reject this Republic ideology because using the history of the 14th Amendment would mean that the Court couldn’t intervene because it is up to States to choose whether they want the schools segregated or not. Most Southern States wanted to keep the schools segregated and following this Republic view in Brown v. Board of Education would’ve stopped the Court from saying that the segregated schools are unconstitutional and States would’ve kept the public schools segregated.

Classical Liberalism is about individual rights, the vision that the purpose of the government is to protect individuals in the exercise of their naturally given rights. Also that it is the job of the government that individuals can exercise these rights as fully as individuals want to. Brown v. Board of Education does not follow Classical Liberalism because the Court replaces one form of racial structuring with another; forcing the removal of segregated races with the integration of races. Therefore, the Court did not focus on giving people the freedom to associate with who they want, people have to live in either an integrated or segregated society. Because the main goal of Thurgood Marshall throughout Brown v. Board of Education is to integrate the races, he had to make an argument that would make the court look at segregation and that segregation is a problem in society due to the feeling of inferiority that it is causing. Thurgood Marshall found that the only way to help African Americans is by arguing that schools need to be integrated to stop this feeling of inferiority. Even though the Court did not use this Classical Liberal view of society, the Court focused on the inequality of the separate schools, that African Americans deserve to have equal educational facilities and successfully made the separate but equal doctrine in public schools unconstitutional.

Progressivism is the ideology that professionals control law and legal administration. Scientific professionals have the best vision of how society should look like by having scientific expertise of what to do about social problems. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court’s conclusion was based on a weak argument on Progressivism. It was a weak argument because the “Doll Test” used did not have a control variable that is, a group of children going to a segregated school and the other group to an integrated school and then gives them the same choices and sees if they did feel inferior. Also, the feeling of inferiority can be explained by confounding variable, another explanation as to why African American children choose the white dolls to play with, in which in this test it was not considered. For example, it could’ve been the daily racism that these children face, that being said, integrated schools could’ve caused the same feeling of inferiority. The court sided with this ideology because the Justices have no training as to how social science works and to them, this seemed the most related to the segregated schools. Although it was a weak argument, the Court helped better than the other ideologies to agree with Thurgood Marshall to integrate the schools, if it wasn’t for the “Doll Test.”

In Brown v. Board of Education, it is unclear which of these ideologies the Supreme Court could use to be able to come to the same conclusion it did. The Supreme Court moves away from these ideologies and moves towards a different view of Equality Liberalism; giving equality to African Americans. The NAACP started to support African American rights alongside Civil Rights Activists. There was a legal and social movement that put pressure on the Supreme Court for these rights and for equality. This social change and pressure made the Court decide differently as it saw the reality in society, which was that America has a race problem. This race problem set the stage for the NAACP to advocate for a new Constitutional role in protecting African American rights. Brown v. Board of Education, began the process of removing three centuries of racism and “a decade later, Congress, in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, made all forms of racial separation in public places illegal.” This made it possible for African Americans to attend schools of their choice.”

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The Supreme Court Ideologies. (2021, Apr 15). Retrieved from