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SUPREME COURT HISTORY
Expanding Civil Rights
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Separate but Equal: Segregation 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Separate restrooms at a train station, the Supreme Court bans segregation in public education
Plessy v. Ferguson

In Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court upheld a Louisiana statute requiring "separate accommodations" for blacks and whites on railways operated within the state. Writing for the Court, Justice Henry Brown, in a 7-1 majority opinion, held that such regulations were not a violation of the then recently adopted Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court reasoned that segregation based on race was permissible under the Constitution so long as equal accommodations were provided to both races. This "separate but equal" framework remained in place during the country's segregation era, until the Court overruled it in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.

Photographic Portrait of Justice Brown
"We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority." -- Justice Henry Brown

Brown v. Board of Education

In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court addressed the issue of whether segregation based on race in public education was denying African-American public school children the equal protection of the law promised under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Chief Justice Earl Warren, writing the decision for a unanimous Court, reasoned that the disparate effects of segregation on African-American public school children made racially segregated public schools "inherently" unequal, thereby effectively overruling Plessy v. Ferguson and the 50 years of law that had followed it.

Photographic Portrait of Chief Justice Earl Warren
"We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment." -- Chief Justice Earl Warren

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