Tuesday, December 18, 2007


SWEATT V. PAINTER With but few exceptions, the "separate but equal" doctrine sanctioned by the United States Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U. S. 537) in 1896 remained an integral aspect of the American legal system during the first half of the twentieth century. By the end of the second World War, however, it became obvious that a developing trend against the "separate but equal" doctrine was gaining momentum in the United States. This momentum was climaxed in 1954 when, in Brown v. Board of Education (347 U. S. 483), the Supreme Court ruled that "in the field of public education the doctrine of 'separate but equal' has no place." Preceding and in large part paving the way for the Brown decision were a number of lesser-known Supreme Court rulings directed against racial dis­crimination and segregation. Two of the more significant of these rulings were those handed down in 1950 in the cases of Sweatt v. Painter (339 U. S. 629) and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (339 U. S. 637).

In the Sweatt case, the Court ruled that a makeshift separate law school for blacks established by the state of Texas did not provide for "substantial equality" of educational facilities for the African American plaintiff (Sweatt) as compared with those facilities available to white students at the University of Texas Law School. "In terms of number of the faculty, variety of courses and opportunity for specialization, size of the student body, scope of library, availability of law review and similar activities," the Court declared, "the University of Texas Law School is superior." Accordingly, the Court concluded that "the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that [Sweatt] be admitted to the University of Texas Law School."

Similarly, in McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, the Court ruled that the University of Oklahoma was in violation of the equal protection clause as the result of a specially devised system of intramural segregation which kept the plaintiff [McLaurin] separated from fellow students in the classroom, library and dining hall. Such a system, the Court declared, deprived the black student of an equal opportunity "to study, to engage in discussion and exchange views with other students, and, in general, to learn his profession."

Although the Sweatt and McLaurin rulings did not expressly revoke the "separate but equal" doctrine, they did represent the Court's growing willingness to determine existing inequality by refusing to accept the sociological premise of racial classification as suggested in Plessy v. Ferguson. This willingness in large part paved the way for the inevitable Brown decision of 1954. See also: BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION and PLESSY V. FERGUSON.

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