In the history of the contemporary United States, there has been no issue that has touched off more debate than the issue of discrimination based on the skin color of an individual. The fact that one skin color is superior to another has been the topic of many a political, social and at one point military struggle in the chronology of the United States. In one of the many Supreme Court cases that have dealt with the race issue, one of them became the benchmark of cases regarding such issues, Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education( 347 U. S. 483 (1954) (Find Law).
In the deliberations that went on in the High Court, the Warren Court found that the Plessey vs. Ferguson decision (163 U. S. 537 (1896) (The Oyez Project), had no legal ambit under the laws of the United States (Nina Totenberg). The Plessey vs. Ferguson ruling of the Supreme Court (163 U. S. 537 (1896) (The Oyez Project) stipulated that the term of “separate but equal” as enshrined in the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution was adequately met in the decision (The Oyez Project).
In the facts of the case, Homer Plessey was incarcerated for the offense of taking a seat in a tram car designated for white people in 1892 (Lisa Cozzens). Plessey was in fact technically a white person, having only an eighth part of him being black, and the rest white (Cozzens). In the case of Plessey vs. the State of Louisiana (163 U. S. 537(1896) (Cornell University School of Law), which the state argued that Plessey was black under their laws, Homer argued that the law for which he was jailed for was unconstitutional (Cozzens).
Plessey further argued that the Separate Car Act was in direct infringement of his rights under the 13th and 14th Amendment rights (Cozzens). In the opinion of Judge Howard Ferguson, the law was constitutionally infirm if the train traveled across state lines (Cozzens). But in the case of Louisiana, Ferguson ruled that the state can regulate the operations of the trains that are in their jurisdiction (Cozzens). When Plessey appealed to the Louisiana State Supreme Court, the court affirmed the ruling made by Ferguson (Cozzens). Arguing before the United States Supreme Court, the Court again found Plessey guilty of the offense (Cozzens).
In their decision, with Justice Henry Brown as ponente, the law that separated blacks from whites in the trains in Louisiana did not clash with the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery (Cozzens). In the ruling, the law did not espouse inequality; it just made a separation in the color of the skin of the two parties (Cozzens). But Justice John Harlan, who voiced the lone opposing vote, averred that the United States Constitution, did not classify men according to the color of their skin, and that all individuals were covered equally by the law (Cozzens).
Harlan also drew on the decision of the Court on the Dred Scott case and said that the decision will be just as controversial (Cozzens). The Plessey case was at the crux of the matter in the arguments presented in the Brown vs. Board of Education issue (Totenberg). Before the initiation of the Brown legal action, the NAACP was getting favorable rulings with regard to its cases that centered on challenging school policies that segregated or even barred black students from some universities’ schools of law (Totenberg).
In the 1950’s, the NAACP turned its legal crosshairs on the issue of segregation in the nation’s primary and secondary education system (Totenberg). With future Supreme Court Chief Justice manning the offensive for the NAACP, the group first tested the waters so to speak in a case filed in Clarendon County, South Carolina (Totenberg). The case however was remanded back to the lower courts (Totenberg). Analysts aver that the decision of the High bench was heavy with political insinuations coming on the heels of the year’s electoral exercise (Totenberg).
With the Topeka, Kansas argument, it was joined by several other motions along the same argument (Totenberg). The Chief Justice at the time, Fred Vinson, had just passed away, allowing for the nomination of then California governor Earl Warren to the post (Totenberg). In the decision of the Warren Court, the practice of segregation of white and black children in the schools was unlawful (Find Law). In the decision, the practice of separating black from white children, if only guided by racial concerns, is abrogation of the rights of children of color of equal coverage of the laws as enshrined in the 14th Amendment (Find Law).
In the court’s opinion, the “separate but equal” legal doctrine found in Plessey vs. Ferguson was deemed infirm in law (Find Law). The cases argued together with Brown all centered on the minority children seeking legal relief to their cause of admission into their local schools on a non-segregated mode (Find Law). In the history of the Supreme Court, the Court has ruled on at least six cases all discussing the “separate but equal” clause in Plessey (Find Law). In the cases of Cumming vs. Board of Education (175 U. S.
528), and Gong Lum vs. Rice (275 U. S. 78), the doctrine itself was not argued (Find Law). In some of the more recent cases, the equal rights guarantee was breached in that white students were acquired with better benefits than their African American counterparts (Find Law). Examples of these cases include Sipuel vs. Canada (332 U. S. 631) and Sweatt vs. Painter (339 U. S. 629) (Find Law). In essence, the Court found that the “separate but equal” doctrine found in the Plessey decision was not espousing equality, but inequality (Totenberg).
The Supreme Court at the time was fully cognizant of the social and political ramifications of the case in Brown (Library of Congress). The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had staged a calculated attack on the Plessey doctrine (Library). Aware of this scenario, the Supreme Court heard the case in as many years as times it heard the case, a total of three years (Library). In coming out with their decision, the Court had ordered that both sides prepare legal briefs in the case (National Archives).
The briefs that the High Bench wanted each side to prepare was to focus on the opinions of the counsels if the Congress had this question in mind, the segregation of students in public schools, when they framed the 14th Amendment (Library). Several cases were in the list of cases cited by counsels in the argument of Brown (Library). The first case was the test case sent up by the NAACP, Briggs vs. Elliot (342 U. S. 350 (1952) (Library). In the particulars of the Elliott case, Harry Briggs claimed that the Clarendon County School Board, led by its President R.
W. Elliott, violated their 14th amendment rights for affirming the school segregation policy (Library). In their arguments, they used the theory of noted child psychologist Dr. Kenneth Clark, who said that segregation affected the outlook of the child of African American children (Library). In the reargue phase of the deliberations before the court, future Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall concluded that the court can rule against their cause by declaring that African Americans were second class human beings in comparison to Caucasian Americans (Library).
After waiting for close to half a year, the Warren Court, on May 17, 1954, rendered a unanimous verdict (Totenberg). It declared that the “separate but equal” doctrine as applied in the area of public education was not sufficiently argued and overturned the Plessey doctrine (Totenberg). With this decision, Thurgood Marshall led the cause to destroy the legal structure that sustained segregation practices in the country (Michael Jay Friedman, p. 1). In the next year, the Supreme Court ordered that the implementation of the decision with all possible speed (Library).
The Brown decision proved to be a turning point in the fight against segregation (National Archives). With this decision, it rendered the Plessey decision inutile and unconstitutional (National Archives). In the rendering the decision, the Court formally ended close to six decades of legally supported practices of segregation in the public schools systems (National Archives). So is this the final indubitable expression of equality? In the article of Owen Fiss, “Groups and the Equal Protection Clause”, he argues that there should be a new interpretation of the equal protection clause in the Constitution (Roberto Gargarella).
In his interpretation, the individual protection ambit of the Amendment must be replaced with one that takes into consideration of the inequalities of a certain group (Gargarella). In the theory, the wisdom of the justices in the Supreme Court cannot produce the equality that a certain group merits (Gargarella). The contrast is that the framers of the fundamental law had the question in mind; they intended judges that will interpret the law as it applies to certain disadvantaged groups (Gargarella). Marshall contributed to the legal basis for the legal motions to be used by Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Civil Rights Digital Library). The Brown decision did prove to be an effective tool for the demolition of segregation, but wasn’t the driver to effect wide scale change in the society (Friedman 5). Marshall helped King, Jr. by being their attorney in the famous Montgomery bus boycott issue (Friedman 8). Both Marshall and King espoused together the peaceful way to end segregation, Marshall in the courts, King through his peaceful non violent marches. Both men stand as vanguards of the freedoms and rights that many African American people enjoy today. Works Cited Civil Rights Digital Library.
“Thurgood Marshall, 1908-1993”. <http://crdl. usg. edu/voci/go/crdl/people/viewP/6747/%20Thurgood/Marshall,%20%201908-1993;jsessionid=D2867F4E9189C250C91425F02516BFF7> Cornell University Law School. “Plessey vs. Ferguson”. <http://www. law. cornell. edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0163_0537_ZS. html> Cozzens, Liza. “Plessey vs. Ferguson”. <http://www. watson. org/~lisa/blackhistory/post-civilwar/plessy. html> Find Law. “Brown vs. Board of Education”. <http://caselaw. lp. findlaw. com/scripts/getcase. pl? court=us&vol=347&invol=483 > Friedman, Michael Jay. “Justice for all: the legacy of Thurgood Marshall”.
<http://www. america. gov/media/pdf/books/marshall. pdf> Gargarella, Roberto. “Group rights, judicial review, and personal motives”. <http://biblioteca. universia. net/ficha. do? id=7700962> Library of Congress. “Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas”. <http://www. loc. gov/exhibits/brown/brown-brown. html> National Archives. “Teaching with documents: order of arguments in the case, Brown vs. Board of Education”. <http://www. archives. gov/education/lessons/brown-case-order/> Totenberg, Nina. “The Supreme Court and “Brown v. Board of Ed. ”. <http://www. npr. org/templates/story/story. php? storyId=1537409>
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