Brown v. Board of Education – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954).

Facts

This case is a consolidation of several different cases from Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. Several black children (through their legal representatives, Ps) sought admission to public schools that required or permitted segregation based on race. The plaintiffs alleged that segregation was unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In all but one case, a three judge federal district court cited Plessy v. Ferguson in denying relief under the “separate but equal” doctrine. On appeal to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs contended that segregated schools were not and could not be made equal and that they were therefore deprived of equal protection of the laws.

Issue

  • Is the race-based segregation of children into “separate but equal” public schools constitutional?

Holding and Rule (Warren)

  • No. The race-based segregation of children into “separate but equal” public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and is unconstitutional.

Segregation of children in the public schools solely on the basis of race denies to black children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, even though the physical facilities and other may be equal. Education in public schools is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

The question presented in these cases must be determined not on the basis of conditions existing when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, but in the light of the role of public education in American life today. The separate but equal doctrine adopted in Plessy v. Ferguson, which applied to transportation, has no place in the field of public education.

Separating black children from others solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. The impact of segregation is greater when it has the sanction of law. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law tends to impede the educational and mental development of black children and deprives them of some of the benefits they would receive in an integrated school system. Whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority and any language to the contrary in Plessy v. Ferguson is rejected.

Disposition

Judgment for the plaintiffs.

See Allen v. Wright for a constitutional law case brief involving an issue of whether the parents of black children had standing to bring claims for declaratory and injunctive relief regarding the tax-exempt status of segregated private schools.


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