Brown vs. Board of Education
On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision overturning “separate but equal” as unconstitutional, stating that segregation in public schools was a violation of the 14th amendment.
Four years earlier, members of the Topeka, Kansas, Chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine governing public education through a class action suit when they were denied the opportunity to enroll their children in the white-only schools.
When the Topeka case made its way to the United States Supreme Court it was combined with other NAACP cases from Delaware, Virginia, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. The combined cases became known as Oliver L. Brown et. al. vs. The Board of Education of Topeka (KS).
You can see the original Complaint against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Court Order, and correspondences between President Eisenhower about Brown vs. Board of Education from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Papers as President here.
Pictured: Supreme Court Opinion of Brown vs. Board of Education, pages 1-3. 5/31/55.
-from the Eisenhower Library
Laying the cornerstone of the new Supreme Court
A letter from Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes inviting President Hoover to participate in the laying of the cornerstone for the new Supreme Court building. September 27, 1932.
-from the Presidential Timeline
On September 25, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to be sworn in as a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Reagan had nominated O’Connor earlier that summer, and he wrote in his White House diary, “Called Judge O’Connor in Ariz. and told her she was my nominee for Supreme Ct. Already the flack is starting and from my own supporters… I think she’ll make a good Justice.”
O’Connor helped inspire a generation of women to pursue careers in law—when she was appointed, thirty-six percent of law school students were women; by the time she retired from the court in 2006 that percentage had risen to forty-eight percent.
Last year, O’Connor spoke to a group of high school students at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley and told them:
“It was exciting to be the first, but I did not want to be the last.”
Photo: Sandra Day O’Connor being sworn in as Supreme Court Justice by Chief Justice Warren Burger. Her husband, John O’Connor looks on. 9/25/81.
More from the Center for Legislative Archives
September 24, 1789: The Supreme Court Established
On this day in 1789, the Judiciary Act of 1789 was passed by Congress and signed by President George Washington. This act established the Supreme Court of the United States as a tribunal of six justices nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
In Article 3 of the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court is granted ultimate jurisdiction over all laws.
Take a look at The Supreme Court timeline that details Supreme Court developments throughout American history.
On September 6, 2005 President George W. Bush nominated John G. Roberts, Jr. to be Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Roberts was confirmed as Chief Justice by the U.S. Senate on September 29 by a 78 to 22 vote.
Nomination of John G. Roberts, Jr, 9/6/2005, Records of the U.S. Senate (ARC 6704655)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nominated as an Associate Justice to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton on June 22, 1993. The Senate confirmed Ginsburg’s nomination on August 3 by a vote of 96-3. She was sworn in on August 10.
Nomination message from President William Clinton, 6/22/1993, Records of the U.S. Senate
May 17th 1954: Brown v. Board of Education decision
On this day in 1954, the US Supreme Court handed down its unanimous decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The decision declared segregation on grounds of race in schools unconstitutional. The ruling overturned the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson which allowed segregation under the doctrine ‘separate but equal’. The case had been bought by African-American parents, including Oliver L. Brown, against Topeka’s educational segregation. It was argued before the Court by the chief legal counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American Supreme Court justice in 1967. The Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, declared that segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The landmark decision is considered the start of the Civil Rights Movement which led to racial integration and full legal rights for African-Americans.
“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”
- Warren’s opinion for the Court
Mr. Civil Rights
Thurgood Marshall convinced the Supreme Court that school segregation was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education.
As legal counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Marshall represented civil rights plaintiffs all over the south and argued more than 30 such cases before the Supreme Court. He won all but five and earned the nickname, Mr. Civil Rights.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy named him to the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Second District. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Marshall U.S. Solicitor General, the third highest post in the Department of Justice.
Two years later, on June 13, 1967, LBJ nominated Marshall to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court where he served for 24 years.
Thurgood Marshall’s nomination by LBJ made him the first African American Supreme Court Justice, but it also followed a long and distinguished career as a civil rights lawyer who successfully fought inequality and discrimination.
Pictured here are Marshall and LBJ outside of the White House. 7/9/65
-from the LBJ Library