Brief Fact Summary. The Supreme Court of the United States invoked the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down laws that permitted racial segregation in public schools.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Segregated public schools are not “equal” and cannot be made “equal,” therefore, the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public schools is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Issue. Whether segregated public schools are not “equal” and cannot be made “equal,” thereby making the doctrine of “separate but equal” in public schools a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Held. Yes. Judgments of the lower courts reversed. Although framers’ intent and the circumstances surrounding the adoption of the 14th amendment in 1868 cast some light, it is not enough to resolve the issue at hand. The doctrine of “separate but equal” did not appear until 1896 in Plessy. Here, there are findings below that the black and white schools involved had been equalized with respect to buildings, curricula, qualifications, teacher salaries, and other “tangible” factors. Therefore, this decision cannot turn on a mere comparison of these “tangible” factors, but rather the effect of segregation itself on public education. Education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments and must be made available on equal terms. “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect on colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law.” Therefore, in the field of public education, the doctrine of “separate
but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Thus, the plaintiffs have been deprived of equal protection.
Discussion. The Supreme Court of the United States rejected the Plessy “separate but equal” theory. Soon after the Brown decision, the Court found segregation unconstitutional in other public facilities as well.