The case to be studied in this paper is Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). It was filed by students who were not admitted to public schools only because they were black. The court’s verdict was that school segregated by race violated the Fourteenth Amendment that provided equal protection to all citizens. This decision was significant since it forbade public school segregation and contributed to the Civil Rights Movement (Goluboff, 2017). This paper will analyze how Brown v. Board relates to government, the Constitution, federalism, civil rights, courts, and public opinion.
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Government, Constitution, and Powers
The first concept that Brown v. Board relates to is government. According to Krutz (2019), the government is responsible for providing public goods, one of which is education, for all people. The plaintiffs were not admitted to schools, which means that the government failed to provide them with education. Brown v. Board is also concerned with civic engagement because the plaintiffs raised the problem of government-supported public school segregation and claimed that it should be resolved (United States Courts, n.d.). Thus, the case was a way for citizens to convey their vision of segregated schools to the government.
Brown v. Board is directly related to the U.S. Constitution. The main subject of the court’s argument was the Fourteenth Amendment adopted in 1868, which was found to be “inconclusive” (Warren & Supreme Court of the United States, 1953, p. 489). The Fourteenth Amendment was interpreted differently by its proponents and opponents; proponents considered it applicable to all citizens, while opponents wanted the amendment to have a limited effect (Warren & Supreme Court of the U.S., 1953). It was because Congress did not state explicitly what they meant when they adopted the Fourteenth Amendment (Warren & Supreme Court of the U.S., 1953). In this regard, the case is also related to Congress.
The Constitution did not explain clearly how the equal protection of citizens should be provided. Therefore, courts started to interpret the Fourteenth Amendment as “proscribing all state-imposed discriminations against the Negro race” (Warren & Supreme Court of the U.S., 1953, p. 490). However, in Brown v. Board case, the Supreme Court declared that interpretation unconstitutional because it did not guarantee equal protection to all citizens in terms of education (Warren & Supreme Court of the U.S., 1953). Thus, this case addressed the issue of racial segregation by changing the way in which the courts interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment.
Brown v. Board case also has a relation to federalism. Chief Justice Warren mentioned that the enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment was different in Northern and Southern states of the U.S. (Warren & Supreme Court of the U.S., 1953). This reference to the differences among states demonstrates the federal system of the U.S. government. Under this system, states are given certain autonomy and may act in their own way unless it is prohibited by the Constitution or is part of the federal government’s responsibilities (Krutz, 2019). Federalism also displays itself in the resolution of the Supreme Court, according to which local authorities and courts had to take action to eliminate public school segregation nationwide (“Brown v. Board,” n.d.). It shows that despite their autonomy, states must comply with decisions made at the highest level of power.
Another significant concern of Brown v. Board is civil rights, but it does not relate to civil liberties. The difference between civil liberties and rights is that the former means basic freedoms that the government cannot infringe on, and the latter is a guarantee that every citizen will be treated without discrimination (Krutz, 2019). Chief Justice Warren admitted that education was “the most important function of state and local governments,” and children had the right to equal education opportunities (Warren & Supreme Court of the U.S., 1953). However, the opportunities were not equal because schools for black students had an inadequate curriculum, ungraded classes, and a lack of compulsory attendance (Warren & Supreme Court of the U.S., 1953). Thus, white and black children were not treated equally in educational settings. African Americans were racially discriminated, which was a violation of civil rights.
Brown v. Board is also concerned with the U.S. judiciary. The U.S. has a dual court system, meaning that its courts are either state or national (Krutz, 2019). At the top of the court system, there is the U.S. Supreme Court. It hears cases from the district courts, courts of appeals, and state supreme courts (Krutz, 2019). Generally, for the case to be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court, it should be concerned with an important federal question (Krutz, 2019). Brown v. Board is a name that refers to five separate cases (United States Courts, n.d.). Original cases were heard in the district courts of Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina, Kansas, and the District of Columbia (Warren & Supreme Court of the U.S., 1953). The details of the cases were different, but all of them were related to school segregation. Since they were heard in the Supreme Court as one case, the problem of segregation had a nationwide significance (United States Courts, n.d.). Thus, this case illustrates the work of the dual court system in the U.S.
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Brown v. Board relates to how the Supreme Court decides cases. It illustrates the use of precedents, which is a court decision based on the previous verdicts and shaping the future operation of courts, thus changing the judiciary system (Krutz, 2019). Before Brown v. Board, courts used the precedent established by Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 to decide cases related to public school segregation (“Documents related to Brown v. Board”, 2016). It created the doctrine of “separate but equal,” meaning that black and white children had the equal right to education but had to attend different schools (United States Courts, n.d., para. 15). In Brown v. Board, the judges unanimously decided that this doctrine should be eliminated because the learning conditions were not equal, thus causing the discrimination of the blacks (Warren & Supreme Court of the U.S., 1953). Hence, this case established a new precedent, according to which courts were prohibited from deciding such cases in favor of segregation.
Public Opinion and Media
Finally, Brown v. Board relates to public opinion and media. When this legal process took place, public opinion about racial segregation was not unanimous, and some people justified segregation (“Documents related to Brown v. Board”, 2016). Therefore, Chief Justice had to decide whether to follow the legal precedent and support proponents of segregation (Cassel, 2004). As is clear from the verdict, the judge was not guided by public opinion in this legal process. Brown v. Board relates to media because NBC News (1954) broadcast the discussion of this case, thus making citizens aware of the ongoing changes in the domestic policy. Furthermore, the fact that the court decision was written in an accessible style means that Chief Justice wanted the public to read and understand the document.
In conclusion, Brown v. Board relates to several topics that were covered during the course. First, it has a relation to the responsibilities of government, the Constitution, and federalism. Secondly, it relates to civil rights but is not concerned with civil liberties. Thirdly, it illustrates how the court system works and how the Supreme Court decides cases. Finally, it relates to the role of public opinion and media in justice.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (2). (n.d.). Web.
Documents related to Brown v. Board of Education. (2016). Web.
Goluboff, R. (2017). Brown v. Board of Education. Web.
Krutz, G. (2019). American government 2e. Houston, TX: Rice University.
NBC News. (1954). American Forum of the Air: The Supreme Court’s Desegregation Decision [Video file]. Web.
United States Courts. (n.d.). History – Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment. Web.
Warren, E., & Supreme Court of the United States. (1953). U.S. Reports: Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483. Web.