The decision that the Supreme Court made on May 17, 1954 is considered one of the most one of the most awe-inspiring and impressive decisions that the Supreme Court has ever rendered. The decision also marked a turning point in race relations that have taken place throughout the history of the United States. On one side were those who were in support of a social system on the basis of racial inferiority, and on the other side were those in support of a society that struggles to recognize the archetype of equal opportunity. Since our society is so complex and diverse, it is not surprising that the opinions on the Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka case seem to vary. Regardless of the effects that the case had in desegregating schools as they are today, it is comprehensively agreeable that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown v. Board of Education case is a symbol of racial justice in America.
The environment in which the Supreme Court rendered the decision in 1954 was an environment in which the American culture and history were pervaded with and giving rise to racial segregation. In some schools of that time, “separate-but-equal” laws allowed or required students to be segregated or separated on the basis of race . However, in the Brown ruling the Supreme Court declared that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” ("Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (No. 1.)"). However, the effect of the ruling was that it officially forbade racially segregated schools, thus changing the status quo for public education in the United States. Years ahead from the case, the change continued to be distinguished with the term desegregation. For some, as Wilkinson writes in his book, “Brown promised equality through opportunity” (Wilkinson 264). For others, it was a threat to the “separate-but-equal” law that originated from the Plessy v. Ferguson case. Nonetheless, regardless of the perspectives, Brown did bring change.
The arguments and points of law raised that were raised by the Supreme Court in the Brown case were centrally based on violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically its equal protection of the laws clause, and Fifth Amendment. Briefs prepared for the initial argument on the Brown case demonstrated constitutional violations by focusing on three points. The first point that the Supreme Court emphasized on was that racial discrimination was unreasonable. The second point was that segregation was detrimental to African American children. Lastly, the Supreme Court argued that the Plessy vs. Ferquson ruling was not relevant since it involved segregation in transportation rather than public education. The Supreme Court emphasized its argument on the findings from the higher educational litigation that pointed out that segregation in education was constitutionally questionable. Based on the Equal Protection Clause, which is a part of the Fourteenth Amendment and applicable as a component of the Fifth Amendment, the Supreme Court’s arguments addressing segregation in education are quite valid (Tushnet 18).
Another argument used by the Supreme Court was regarding the issue regarding color and race alone. The argument was that the Fourteenth Amendment prevented a state from distinguishing its citizens on the basis of color and race alone. The Supreme Court contended with the attorneys supporting Brown that the constitution did not allow such distinctions, and they were impulsive and whimsical (Tushnet, 21). The Supreme Court’s intention to agree with this line of reasoning was that it demonstrated that the Plessy vs. Ferquson ruling was unreasonable (Tushnet 171). The Supreme Court Justices were aware that it would be monumental if they decided to bar segregation in public schools throughout the country and so they based their approach towards the decision in the Brown case on strategy (Spritzer). They also knew that their decision would have certain consequences and ramifications. It may seem plausible that Supreme Court was intending to confront the issue head-on, however, this is what allowed them to exercise control over the issue of segregation in public schools in the United States (Tushnet 167).
The Supreme Court also looked back on its decision in Korematsu v. United States that upheld the confinement of Japanese American citizens during the Second World War. This allowed the Supreme Court to lead to the conclusion that even when it had ruled that racial classifications could be used in matters of national security, this practice could not be followed once such a threat no longer existed (Tushnet 21), as in 1950. By connecting this conclusion to the Plessy vs. Ferquson ruling, allowed the Supreme Court to agree upon the argument that racial segregation on the basis of the “separate but equal” doctrine was the equivalent of racial classifications used in times of war. Moreover, the Supreme Court had certainly misunderstood the concept of “equality” in the Plessy vs. Ferquson ruling (Tushnet 171), and the Court agreed their misunderstanding while assessing the arguments during the Brown case. This helped the Supreme Court in developing the argument that the state needed to conform to “conform to constitutional standards” whenever imposing racial distinctions and singling out citizens (Tushnet 21).
Chief Justice Earl Warren’s logically argued that considering “the effect of segregation itself on public education” (Alexander 896) was the only way to answer the question whether “separate educational facilities [were] inherently unequal” (Alexander 895) , and therefore did not comply with the “separate but equal doctrine.” He cited the rulings that the Supreme Court had made in the past, such as those in Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education in 1950. Warren appropriately compared the inequalities between all-white and African American schools in those cases that were considered as “intangible” to the inequalities existing between the schools involved in the Brown case. His agreement with a finding that segregated African American children felt inferior due to attending separate schools that undermined their educational motivations and held them back from educational opportunities they would enjoy if they were not racially segregated. As Warren noted, there is ample contemporary psychological research that supports this finding (Goldstein). So his conclusion there is no place for the “separate but equal” doctrine in public education is agreeable too.
The ruling and the opinion of the Court in the Brown v. the Board of Education case were comparatively simple and straightforward, considering the constitutional questions the Court raised, the impact the “separate-but-equal” law was having on public schools in the U.S., and the foreseen reactions in some parts of the country. The opinion of the Supreme Court was delivered by Chief Justice Warren. Brown’s reason spoke to whether the development of public education in 1954 was in violation of the constitutional principles. The court commended education as the most important function that the local and statement governments were performing. The justices reasoned that the only way children can be expected to successful in life is through education. The justices proceeded to reason that since the responsibility of providing education as a right had been undertaken by the state, therefore, every child should have the equal right to be educated. The constitution guaranteed “equal” education, but segregated educational facilities did not meet those constitutional obligations.
The Brown case counteracted the primitive objective of segregation by giving equality a whole new meaning. Segregation has always been readily unequal, thus, the decision made in the Plessy vs. Ferquson case that permitted “separate but equal” education was voided by the Supreme Court in the Brown case. Therefore, the Supreme Court informed the educational institutions of America that dual equity was nothing but a fictional legal doctrine that would not be accepted anymore. According to lawyer Philip Elman, who wrote the Brown v. Board of Education case brief, segregation had been affected both legal and psychological terms for a long time in the form of a social institution. He writes that the Supreme Court held that segregation denied constitutional rights that definitively recognized the importance of emotional and psychological factors. Therefore, the Court held that segregation could have a negative impact upon the children and their future lives, preventing them from fully taking advantage of their constitutional rights (Kluger 144).
Prior to the deliberations and the ultimate that was made in the Brown case, a variety of factors were considered. One particularly significant factor was that the Supreme Court included social science findings, notably according to Kluger, from “The Psychological Effects of Enforced Segregation: A Survey of Social Science Opinion” by Max Deutscher and Isidor Chein. As cited by Kluger, the Supreme Court considered factors such as the detrimental psychological effects of segregation on those being segregated; the detrimental psychological effects of segregation on those enforcing segregation; etc. The findings revealed that a majority of Americans agreed that segregation indeed had detrimental effects not only on the racial and religious groups being segregated but also on the group enforcing segregation; regardless of the equal facilities they provide the segregated group. The responses in Deutscher and Chein’s survey were based on individual research and the research of others, which adds more weight to their views. Moreover, this justifies the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case.
The reality of desegregation that is becoming more and more positive throughout the country would not have been possible if it was not for the ruling that the Supreme Court made in the Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka case. A majority of blacks in the country are no longer attending complete segregated schools. The schools of today are racially balanced as a result of which the level of academic achievement for minorities is much higher than it ever was. This means that these racial minorities succeed in life and in employment by fitting into integrated settings. The Supreme Court was definitely relevant and right in concluding that segregation in public education was unconstitutional, and had detrimental emotional and psychological effects on the children who were forced to attend racially segregated schools. Since the Supreme Court used arguments based on these factors, and considering the positive impact that desegregation has had, it is apparent that the Supreme Court made the right decision.
"Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (No. 1.)." Legal Information Institute. Legal Information Institute, 17 May 1954. Web. 15 Apr 2013.
"Plessy v. Ferguson (No. 210)." Legal Information Institute. Legal Information Institute, 18 Apr 1896. Web. 15 Apr 2013.
Alexander, Kern. American Public School Law: Manual. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2005. Print.
Goldstein, Dana. "Segregated Schools Leave Children Behind." The American Prospect. The American Prospect, 19 Sep 2007. Web. 15 Apr 2013.
Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice. New York: Random House, Inc., 1977. Print.
Tushnet, Mark. Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1956-1961. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Print.
Wilkinson, J. Harvie. From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and School Integration: 1954-1978. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981. Print.