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State checks on the judicial branch

The Supreme Court case, Plessy versus Ferguson, allowed racial segregation under the "separate but equal" principle. However, Brown versus Board of Education overturned this, declaring segregation in schools unconstitutional. Despite this, Southern states resisted desegregation, leading to federal intervention.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In previous videos, we had talked about the 1896 Supreme Court case, Plessy versus Ferguson, which is a good one to know in general if you're studying United States history and/or United States government. But this is where we got the principle of separate but equal where the Supreme Court said in 1896 that it was okay to have segregation. It was okay to separate folks on a racial basis as long as what they got was equal. This was a case around whether it was unconstitutional for an African-American in Louisiana to have to sit in a separate rail car from white passengers. Now, as you can imagine, this idea of segregation and separate but equal, it was taken to justify racial segregation in all walks of life, including in schools. And what you see here is a map of the United States, and it's colored in by the degree of school segregation, educational segregation, as we enter into the 1950s. And what you could see is in these red states here, which is for the most part the Southern states, it required the separation of races. In the green states you see here segregation was forbidden. And in the yellow and blue states it was kind of in between. The yellow states had no legislation, and in the blue states it was limited. It wasn't required. And all of this comes to a head as we get into the 1950s in Topeka, Kansas. You have a situation where the NAACP in coordination with 13 parents tried to register African-American students into white schools in Topeka, Kansas. The schools tried to prevent them, and it eventually goes to the United States Supreme Court in the case of Brown versus Board of Education of Topeka 1954. Oliver Brown was one of those 13 parents trying to get his daughter into an otherwise segregated school. And this is a seminal Supreme Court case because here the Supreme Court revisits segregation and essentially overturns Plessy versus Ferguson. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, ruled, 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. And we cite the 14th Amendment a lot in these Supreme Court cases. And it never hurts to take another look at at least an excerpt of the 14th Amendment. And this is a focus on the equal protection clause. This is part of Section 1 of the 14th Amendment. Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. And then this is the equal protection clause. Nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. And this is a big deal because not only does it say that hey, segregation is fundamentally unconstitutional. What's also interesting about this is that this unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court then sets off a whole series of actions by politicians from those states that you saw where segregation was mandatory to try to go around the Supreme Court's decision. And so it's a case of how other branches of government might try to limit Supreme Court powers or try to ignore, in some cases, Supreme Court powers. A good example of this was Virginia Senator Harry Byrd. In 1956, shortly after the Brown versus Board of Education decision, he issues the Southern Manifesto where he gets 100 politicians in the South to essentially sign on saying, hey, we are going to do what we can, legislatively, to try to get around the Brown versus Board of Education decision. We are going to try to ensure that that does not go into effect in segregated states like Virginia. And later that year, in 1956, it took the form of this massive resistance movement where they had the Stanley Plan, named after the Virginia governor in which they started to pass laws to try to make Brown versus Board of Education not take effect. One of them, for example, said that any school that actually desegregated would not receive state funds, and it authorized the governor to close those schools down. And this massive resistance continued, and it was challenged in the courts all the way to 1959 where you actually have the first integrated schools in the state of Virginia. Another state-level challenge to the ruling by the Supreme Court happened in 1957 where the governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, tried to actively prevent nine students, nine African-American students, from attending Little Rock Central High School. And so what you see in this picture over here, these are US Army troops sent by President Eisenhower to escort these nine students into Little Rock Central High School. These nine students are famously known as the Little Rock Nine. And this is actually a picture of Governor Orval Faubus later complaining about this intervention. And this continues on for some time. You fast forward to 1963. This is Alabama Governor George Wallace physically using himself to block two African-American students from registering at the University of Alabama. Once again, in this situation, the president had to take action. This time John F. Kennedy, he federalized the National Guard and he made them force Governor Wallace to step aside so that those students could register at the University of Alabama. So the big picture here is that Brown versus Board of Education is a seminal case in American history, but it also tells us how the legislative branch and state government might try to go around decisions that they don't like. Sometimes they might just ignore the decision until they're forced to pay attention to it. Or they might try to legislate their way around it and have a fight in the court system until they're forced to go one way or the other.