The recent decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Brown v. Board of Education (1954) has created a stir, as well as brought up several issues that deserve our attention. We have reached a paramount point in our struggle with racism, and have evidence of a strongly conservative Supreme Court that has shown the courage to make ground-breaking decisions. On top of this, their decision makes us wonder about the underlying themes that led the court to decide to force desegregation, and then what happened to make our new court disagree with the prior decision.
The laws, amendments, and rulings on racial justice extend to the beginnings of America, but the basic connection to what we’re looking for would be the Plessey v. Ferguson decision. In 1896 a man by the name of Plessey was arrested for refusing to ride in a railroad car designated for blacks, even though he was seven-eighths white. He went to the district court over it, and after being found guilty in that court, he took his case to the Louisiana Supreme Court. They, too, ruled in favor of segregated railcars. Undaunted, Plessey took his case to the United States Supreme Court, where they approved to hear his case, but ended up agreeing with all of the previous courts’ decisions. On a majority of five justices, the state of Louisiana was allowed to continue letting private corporations provide segregated facilities, as long as they were “equal in quality.” This set the “separate but equal” clause into law.
However, in 1952 an African-American assistant preacher named Oliver Brown wanted his daughter to go to school with her white playmates. So he took his daughter to the school that they were attending to apply for admission. He was turned down on account of her race, so he took his problem to the courts, leading up to, yes, the U. S. Supreme Court. In an attempt to be “color-blind” in its dealing with its citizens, the court this time decided against the “separate” part of the clause. They agreed on a forced desegregation, being enforced by a ratio of whites to blacks or vice versa. The actual ratios were formed after the court’s decision by different levels of government. By doing this, though, they set a clear separation of blacks and whites in the eyes of the federal government.
In this context, the current Supreme Court handed down a crucial decision that reevaluates the status of racial conflict. They overturned Brown v. Board because the court saw that it created a difference between whites and blacks, and that that was what the government wanted to avoid in the first place. In other circumstances this would have been disastrous, but because of the natural blending of race that now exists, and because of the basic need for the government to be as “colorblind” as the constitution is, it was the right decision. It rings particularly true for something like public education, as it is a government-provided service. This was emphasized in the court’s opinion: “The “separate but equal” clause doctrine adopted in the Plessey v. Ferguson [case] has no place in the field of public education.”
But now we deal with the crux issue. What underlying theme has caused the whole racial battle to last as long as it has? It is because the government has promised an impossibility: equality. Where in the constitution, even when you’re broadly interpreting the welfare clause, can you find a guarantee for a life equal in value to others? Of course, it is the duty of the government to deal with its citizens in a level, color-blind manner. Making it against the law for one man to live in a better condition than the next man is simply ridiculous. That is why the recent decision to overturn Brown v. Board is so crucial and such a breakthrough in both the racial battle by being color-blind and the forward progress of human rights.
This, along with other recent rulings by our new majority of conservative justices has made our Supreme Court’s future look hopeful. Now our justices have an ability to truly read the constitution in a constructionist light, and they’re ready to rule according to their belief and take action as shocking as turning over a decision that had been upheld since the fifties. This is exciting, as many of the things we hold to as wrong for our government, such as abortion, would take an overturning of a previous Supreme Court ruling; now we have a court that may be willing to take this kind of action.