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Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

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Classifying Arguments for Each Side of the Case

dIRECTIONS

The following is a list of arguments in the Brown v. Board of Education court case. Read through each argument and decide whether it supports Brown's side against segregation (LB), Board of Education of Topeka's position in favor of segregation (TOP), both sides (BOTH), or neither side (N).

  1. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution states:
    • "No State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
    • The Fourteenth Amendment precludes a state from imposing distinctions based upon race. Racial segregation in public schools reduces the benefits of public education to one group solely on the basis of race and is unconstitutional.
  2. The Fourteenth Amendment states that people should be treated equally; it does not state that people should be treated the same. Treating people equally means giving them what they need. This could include providing an educational environment in which they are most comfortable learning. White students are probably more comfortable learning with other white students; black students are probably more comfortable learning with other black students. These students do not have to attend the same schools to be treated equally under the law; they must simply be given an equal environment for learning. The U.S. District Court found that the facilities provided for black children in Topeka were equal to those of white children.
  3. Psychological studies have shown that segregation has negative effects on black children. By segregating white students from black students, a badge of inferiority is placed on the black students, a system of separation beyond school is perpetuated, and the unequal benefits accorded to white students as a result of their informal contacts with one another is reinforced. The U.S. District Court found that segregation did have negative effects on black children.
  4. No psychological studies have been done on children in the Topeka, Kansas school district. The findings of the psychological studies that demonstrate the negative effects of segregation cannot be stretched to the Topeka school district. There is no indication of personal harm to the appellants.
  5. In 1896 the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. In this case, Homer Plessy sued, alleging that his Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by a Louisiana law requiring the railroad companies to provide equal, but separate, facilities for white and black passengers. The Court declared that segregation was legal as long as facilities provided to each race were equal. The Court declared that the legal separation of the races did not automatically imply that the black race was inferior. Legislation and court rulings could not overcome social prejudices, according to Justice Brown. "If one race be inferior to the other socially, the constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane."
  6. In 1950 the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Sweatt v. Painter. In this case Herman Sweatt was rejected from the University of Texas Law School because he was black. He sued school officials alleging a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Court examined the educational opportunities at the University of Texas Law School and a new law school at the Texas State University for Negroes and determined that the facilities, curricula, faculty and other tangible factors were not equal. Furthermore, the justices argued that other factors such as the reputation of the faculty and position and influence of the alumni could not be equalized. They therefore ruled in favor of Sweatt.
  7. The United States has a federal system of government that leaves educational decision making to state and local legislatures.
  8. At the time the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution was drafted, widespread public education had not yet taken hold. Education was usually in the hands of private organizations. Most black children received no education at all. It is unlikely that those involved with passing the Fourteenth Amendment thought about its implications for education.
  9. Housing and schooling have become interdependent. The segregation of schools has reinforced segregation in housing, making it likely that a change in school admission policies will have a dramatic effect on neighborhoods, placing a heavy burden on local government to deal with the changes. The local conditions of an area must be taken into consideration.

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