Linda Brown in 1964 (Library of Congress)
Brown v. Board of Education is the case that desegregated schools in America and overturned the doctrine of “separate but equal” that enabled segregation in the United States. The third grader at the center of the case, Linda Brown, died this week at the age of 76.
Linda just wanted a closer school and a safer commute, one that didn’t involve crossing a dangerous street and railroad tracks just to get to her bus. But the school five minutes from her home was all white and Linda was African American. And in Topeka, Kansas in the 1950s, like in much of the country, schools were segregated. Linda’s parents objected and their case became a class action lawsuit that eventually went all the way to the Supreme Court.
In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court ruled in favor of Brown, writing that segregation and the doctrine of “separate but equal” were inherently unequal and thus violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Learn more about the fight to end segregation in schools in our film An Independent Judiciary.
“You have the right to remain silent….” Anyone who has seen a cop show in the past half century knows the rest. This phrase is called the Miranda warning, and it comes from a Supreme Court opinion that was announced 51 years ago today. Miranda v. Arizona established the idea that criminal defendants must be informed of their rights to an attorney and against self-incrimination prior to interrogation in order for any of their statements to be admissible in court.
In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape and armed robbery. After he was picked out in a police lineup, Miranda was subjected to a prolonged interrogation, after which he confessed. Miranda, a 9th grade dropout, was not informed of his constitutional rights. Based largely on his confession, Miranda was found guilty and sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison.
Miranda appealed, and in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Miranda’s rights had been violated. The language of what would go on to become the Miranda warning was taken nearly word-for-word from the Supreme Court opinion authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren. “He must be warned prior to any questioning,” wrote Warren, “that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that, if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.”
Learn more in our film The Right to Remain Silent: Miranda v. Arizona.
Chief Justice Earl Warren
(Hessler Studio, Washington, D.C..
Harry S. Truman Library & Museum)
63 years ago, on May 17 , 1954, the Supreme Court handed down one of the most monumental opinions in its history, the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Brown overturned the 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson, which instituted state-sanctioned segregation in the United States for the next half century. In his unanimous opinion in Brown, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that segregated schools violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
Brown has gone down as one of the most important opinions in the history of the Supreme Court. However, that hasn’t meant that school segregation has ended in America — in fact, recent evidence suggests that the problem is getting worse, not better.
Read the decision in Brown v. Board of Education at the National Archives and learn more about the case in our film, An Independent Judiciary.
Before you head to the polls, The Constitution Project encourages you to learn more about the principle One Person, One Vote. This notion is synonymous with American democracy, but did you know that the decisions that ensured that right almost tore the Supreme Court and the country apart?
Watch our film One Person, One Vote and learn more about the series of landmark Supreme Court cases that guaranteed our right to fair and equal representation in our state legislatures. And make sure you vote!