On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that separate but equal schools for black children were an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. As a result, the United States began a long process of integrating schools across the country, in both the North and the South. To this day, the question of the appropriate distribution of racial groups in schools is a prominent and contentious issue.
The prior position that separate but equal facilities were constitutional came from an 1896 decision, Plessy v. Ferguson, which declared that racially separate facilities were legal, so long as they were truly equal. In the Brown decision, the Justices relied upon social science data that claimed that the stigma attached to attending a black school was harmful, even if all other aspects of the facility were equal. As a result, they declared that separate facilities could never be equal.
Today, it is widely assumed that Brown overturned Plessy in its entirety, and brought the United States a color-blind Constitution. Had that been so, however, many systems of legal discrimination used to favor minorities would be illegal. Affirmative action, set-aside programs, and various other tools used to compensate for past discrimination would not be allowed.
- Do you believe social science should be used to determine law? Or should legal decisions be based only on legal principles?
- Do you believe the country would be better served by a complete overturning of Plessy and a colorblind constitution? If so, why do you think this hasn’t happened? If not, then do you believe using race in legal matters is temporarily necessary? Or should this be a permanent part of the Constitution? If it is permanent, then what does it say about our premise of equality?
9, May 2018, Scales of Justice [Digital image]. Retrieved from <google.com>.