United States Supreme Court

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Known to be one of the greatest and most influential Supreme Court decisions of the 20th century, Brown v. Board of Education became a vital element for the civil rights movement. In their decision, the court unanimously held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was violated by racial segregation of children in public schools. Racial equality became largely debated because of this, and therefore inspired the American civil rights movement. Throughout the case, the saying “separate but equal” was thoroughly analyzed and was eventually ruled inherently unequal; and effectively unconstitutional.

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There were a total of five cases in question, and the Supreme Court heard all five cases collectively in 1952. This arrangement was consequential because it portrayed school segregation as not just a Southern issue, but a national one. As a national issue, the case became very well known, and many people began picking sides; becoming strong supporters or active opponents. Opponents were enraged by the overturning of the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, while supporters became energized by the progress in the fight for equality. Brown v. Board of Education, a landmark decision in 1954, was caused by the need to abolish the history of African American injustices.

As a result of strong influence by Thurgood Marshall, using physiological factors, Chief Justice Warren ruled on the side of racial equality, making it one of the most renown cases of the century. Through the use of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the idea of a living Constitution was accomplished for many and acted as a precedent in helping to support people’s rights in court. “The Fourteenth Amendment (1868) strengthened the legal rights of newly freed slaves by stating, among other things, that no state shall deprive anyone of either due process of law or of the equal protection of the law” (“History- Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment”). This amendment and clause were important steps in gaining equal opportunities for African Americans during the nineteenth century because it effectively strengthened the growing support for equality, and it put in writing the things African Americans had been preaching for years. Although the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did help support people’s legal rights, in later court cases, that was not the case. The fight for African American equality through court cases did not just start with Brown v. Board of Education, other cases such as Plessy v. Ferguson arose earlier in history. In Plessy v. Ferguson, Homer Plessy argued before the court to state that the separation of blacks and whites on public transportation was unconstitutional. By stating that this abomination violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Plessy got his case all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Although the ruling was not in favor of Plessy, the effects of the case in boosting African American equality sentiment was a win on it own. Because of the Plessy decision, the Supreme Court proceeded to allow numerous forms of discrimination to be legal (“Brown v. Board of Education Timeline).

However, although the Supreme Court ruled against Plessy, many wanted to reverse the decision and wanted segregation in public schools to be declared unconstitutional. Many people did not stop pressing for unjust laws such as Jim Crow laws to be abolished even after the Plessy ruling. For example, Justice Henry Billings, the only one that voted in favor of Plessy during the trial, stated the reason he supported Plessy. He did not interpret the Fourteenth Amendment the way that many other people had and he declared that: “Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens” (“History- Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment”). Harlan’s words proved very strong and were used by later generations to fight against unconstitutional segregation. Although beneficial, the Fourteenth Amendment was not the only factor in combating discrimination. In civil rights history, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s, founded by W.E.B. Dubois, Ida Wells- Barnett, and others, has become a leading contributor in the fight against injustices African Americans faced everyday. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) was the result of a long-standing legal campaign waged by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and its legal arm, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), to remedy the effects of Jim Crow laws which segregated public facilities along racial lines throughout many southern states. Starting in the 1930s, the NAACP… sued state and local governments using the Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). (Allison 141) Through the NAACP’s fight over Jim Crow Laws, they were able to make a name for themselves as strong advocates for African Americans.

The NAACP not only fought for African American equality in general and in large groups, but they also took on individual cases and situations, effectively making a significant difference even through small victories. Although the NAACP did what they could to combat injustices, measures such as the Jim Crow Laws also led to such instances as all white juries, which put African American cases at a disadvantage. Because of this, the NAACP was known to be the leading force in legally going after and attacking segregation. These attacks eventually led to the NAACP trying the Brown v. Board of Education Case. Other influential cases also emerged from earlier periods such as the Supreme Court case Roberts v. The City of Boston. African Americans were put at a disadvantage regarding schooling which came out in the Roberts case which became so influential because of its lasting impact.

The case involved parents of black students who were sick and tired of standing back and allowing white students and teachers at integrated schools to torment their children. Parents of these children decided to take a stand in the earliest reported case in 1849 which started the domino effect of court cases for action to be taken. “African American parents… began petition drives to close down the segregated schools… Parents explained how their children had been denied enrollment in all Boston schools except the segregated Smith School” (“Related Cases”). The Boston school system allowed the mistreatment of many African American children in integrated schools as well as denying African American children admission into other schools that their parents were being taxed to support. After going to trial, the Roberts case was ultimately unsuccessful because provisions had been made for African American students through the creation of an integrated school. Because of this integrated school, it was argued that African American children were not being discriminated against because they had a place they could go where they would belong. Regarding the proceedings of the Brown v. Board of Education case itself, Thurgood Marshall was a powerful contributor. Thurgood Marshall started out as a young black lawyer who believed in equality and wanted everyone to have a fair chance at it. Toward the beginning of his career, Marshall became the general counsel for the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.

After working with the NAACP on many cases, Marshall took on the Brown v Board of Education case as one of the lead attorneys for the plaintiffs. “He argued to the Court that segregated schools were not equal and never would be, so segregation was a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment” (Valentine 313). Because of this, Marshall continued his attack by stating that segregation was only upheld by the idea that African Americans were inferior to all other human beings. He then went on to fight this claim and articulate his position supporting African Americans by explaining how there is no solid evidence to support the claim. One of the underlying factors for Marshall in his arguments was the hope to get the Plessy doctrine ruled unconstitutional. Because of his overall drive and passion, Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases that he was involved in throughout his career (“The Supreme Court”). After Marshall’s victory with Brown v. Board of Education, he was later appointed the first black justice of the Supreme Court. Similar to Marshall in his passion for the cause, another authoritative contributor to the Brown v. Board of Education case was Chief Justice Earl Warren. Chosen by President Dwight Eisenhower, Warren made it clear how he believed the case would go. In first discussions of the case, Warren made a statement that the verdict would fall on the side of ending segregation. He spoke highly of the NAACP and its leaders and he had his mind made up from the very beginning that he would work with the justices to come to a unanimous and uniform decision to end segregation in the public school system. “The arguments of Negro counsel proved that they are not inferior.

I don’t see how we can continue in this day and age to set one group apart from the rest and say that they are not entitled to exactly the same treatment as all others” (“Brown v. Board: When the Supreme Court Ruled against Segregation”). As a powerful political figure from California, Warren was used to the political arena and knew how to sway justices his way. Physiological tactics used by Warren played a large role in the outcome of the case because he was able to get in people’s heads and appeal to their logic and emotion. Even with the physiological factors from Chief Justice Warren, and the powerful arguments from Thurgood Marshall, the justices still faced many issues when it came down to their final decision. Throughout the case, the justices on the Brown case were faced with many roadblocks, and one large one being the difficulty in keeping the Court together. One concern that greatly split the Court was the racial backlash that would follow the ruling (“Documents Related to Brown v. Board of Education”). The court was split based on the justices’ own beliefs relating to the case, as well as their viewpoints on the impact. They all had differing views on how this decision would impact the U.S. for years to come and what consequences it could hold. The court also started questioning whether or not the decision, if ruled in favor of Brown, could be enforced without an outbreak of violence. “Two justices—Robert Jackson and Stanley Reed—had concerns about the Supreme Court making a decision that would be better left to Congress” (“Brown v. Board: When the Supreme Court Ruled against Segregation”).

Many other justices also felt accordingly because they felt as if the issue of state enforcement should be left up to Congress and not be completely overrun by the Supreme Court. Despite the concerns from the justices, the final decision ruled that segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. After the long deliberation, the ruling came out unanimously to end the “seperate by equal” criterion. “We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (“Transcript of Brown v. Board of Education”). As stated by the justices, they ruled that the plaintiffs were stripped of their right to be treated equally which needed to be fixed. Because Warren ruled on the side of racial equality, the decision affected other aspects of American life. This brought up idea that since segregation is ruled unconstitutional in the education system, it should also be ruled unconstitutional in all situations (Patterson 71). This decision shook the United States and was just the beginning of the now expanding civil rights movement and caused new, progressive ideas to emerge. Some positive outcomes that came from the ruling were large scale movements with positive impacts. Although the Brown ruling did not single handedly end segregation in public schools, it sparked many civil rights movements that greatly assisted the cause.

For example, “in 1955… Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and would lead to other boycotts, sit-ins and demonstrations” (History.com Editors). Because of incidences such as the Montgomery bus boycott, the effects of the Brown case continued to largely influence public opinion of equality. Some believed that what Parks did was very brave, and some believe that rulings such as Brown were condoning unacceptable behavior by African Americans. Nevertheless, boycotts and sit-ins just like the one led by Parks also helped to collapse Jim Crow laws in the South which previously were very powerful. Although there were many progressive outcomes that arose because of the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, there were also some troubling consequences. Not everyone was happy about the decision the Supreme Court came to, and that was made clear through the Little Rock Nine incident. “On September 23, 1957, nine African American high school students entered Little Rock’s Central High School… These nine students were part of an integration plan ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court. Outside the school, a mob of violent protesters gathered, threatening the students’ safety” (Eisenhower, Dwight D, and Bill Clinton). The Little Rock Nine, as they are referred to today, faced a mob of armed soldiers and distressed whites preventing them from entering their school building. The Arkansas National Guard was acting in an open defiance of the rulings of the Supreme Court.

Although this was an open defiance, the NAACP did not let them get away with it and obtained a court order to stop the mob from blocking the students (Valentine 320). Finally, after President Eisenhower ordered the U.S. Army to intervene, the students were allowed into the school, and for the rest of the year, the army escorted them to school. Due to blatant defiance of the Brown decision by many states, the Supreme Court created Brown v. Board of Education II. To help accelerate the compliance to the Brown I decision, the Supreme Court enacted Brown II, where local school districts would need to be accountable for issues in their school districts regarding segregation. “…States had to move “with all deliberate speed” to implement the Brown I ruling. Thus, the Supreme Court pushed the implementation of Brown I to the local level” (Blogger). Since this issue is so important and should not have a blanket fix for every school, each school district was urged to assess their unique situation and create a tailored plan to deal with the obstacles they were facing. Also, all of this was to be done as quickly as possible to ensure the Brown ruling be applied. Because of this new enactment, major resistance began to flood through the South because change was being forcefully implemented. Another resistance movement in response to the Brown decision was the Southern Manifesto of 1956.

The Southern Manifesto of 1956 proved to be a massive defiant act in response to the ruling of the Brown v Board of Education case. “101 members of Congress signed a document in opposition of racial integration in public places… In Virginia, massive resistance tactics included closing public schools and opening segregated private schools” (Blogger). Many states also began to declare their views that the Supreme Court acted unconstitutionally went making their decision. Because of the Brown case, schoolhouses became places of hostility and animosity. The members of Congress and the House of Representatives that issued the manifesto felt that the Brown ruling was an abuse of the judicial power (Kluger 755). They also felt as if the Justices were biased to the case and allowed their own personal ideas to cloud their judgement. Caused by the demand to end the abuses brought on African Americans, Brown v. Board of Education proved to be a momentous case. Because of powerful tactics by Thurgood Marshall, Chief Justice Warren, as a result, ruled against the ongoing racial inequality in a pivotal decision.

The Brown v. Board of Education court case is still talked about today because of the momentous change in attitude toward the civil rights movement that it caused. It was so influential, that more than twenty years later, the Supreme Court announced another notable decision in the case Runyon v. McCrary. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that even private schools that used racial discrimination regarding admission would be violating federal civil rights laws (History.com Editors). If not for Brown v. Board of Education, many cases just like Runyon v. McCrary would not have reached the Supreme Court, and many laws regarding segregation would not have been overturned.

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United States Supreme Court. (2019, Oct 03). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/united-states-supreme-court/