Practice of treating people differently on the basis of their race, skin color, or ethnicity. Racial discrimination may be perpetrated by governments, private persons, or institutions.
The first African slaves
Four NAACP leaders holding a membership poster for their organization. From left to right: Henry L. Moon, Roy Wilkins, Herbert Hill, and future Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall
In its first Fourteenth Amendment
Despite the tone of the first two cases in which the Court had considered the Fourteenth Amendment’s command that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” its 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson
At the end of World War I, the most visible manifestation of governmental discrimination was the system of segregated public schools that existed pursuant to law in all the former states of the Confederacy and in most of the border states, including Kentucky, Delaware, and Maryland. In 1925 opponents of segregation, most notably the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
During the 1930’s and 1940’s a series of cases were brought to the Court in which racial bars had been erected to the admission of African Americans to state university graduate and law schools. In most of these cases, the states had made no provision for African Americans, and the Court was quick to force states to remedy the deficiency. The most significant of these cases was Sweatt v. Painter
Although nothing in the Court’s opinion in Brown said so explicitly, its thrust went far beyond public education.
The Court’s work also sparked and encouraged the growth and fervor of the Civil Rights movement
In the 1970’s civil rights activists shifted their focus from eliminating racial discrimination to remedying the effects of past discrimination. Amendments to the 1964 Civil Rights Act mandated affirmative action
The Court answered this question albeit in an extremely complex way in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
Although state-mandated segregation raised the most important racial discrimination issues faced by the Court, many other cases involving race were addressed by the justices. Among the most important of these is Korematsu v. United States
In the area of
Race-related restrictive covenants
In 1967 the court addressed the issue of miscegenation statutes (laws forbidding interracial marriage), which existed in sixteen states, including Virginia. The Court struck down Virginia’s law in Loving v. Virginia
Thus, by the end of the twentieth century, the Court had established that racial classifications in both federal and state legal systems are unconstitutional except for some benign remedial classifications designed to remedy past governmental discrimination.
Just as issues of race and discrimination have continued to challenge American courts, those issues have inspired a large literate. Among the many books looking at race and the Supreme Court are Robert A. Williams’s Like a Loaded Weapon: The Rehnquist Court, Indian Rights, and the Legal History of Racism in America (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005), Maurice Y. Mongkuo’s Race Preference Programs and the United States Supreme Court Strict Scrutiny Standard of Review (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2005), Michael J. Klarman’s From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: The Supreme Court and the Struggle for Racial Equality (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), and Girardeau A. Spann’s The Law of Affirmative Action: Twenty-Five Years of Supreme Court Decisions on Race and Remedies (New York: New York University Press, 2000). Other useful books include Kevin J. McMahon’s Reconsidering Roosevelt on Race: How the Presidency Paved the Road to Brown (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004) and Christopher Waldrep’s Racial Violence on Trial: A Handbook with Cases, Laws, and Documents (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2001). Among important older works on this subject, the most accessible and useful for the general reader is Richard Kluger’s highly readable Simple Justice (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), which traces the Court’s role from Plessy to Brown and the litigation strategies of the NAACP and its opponents. On the origin and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, Jacobus tenBroek’s Equal Under Law (New York: Collier, 1965) offers an excellent discussion. Thurgood Marshall: Justice for All by Roger Goldman with David Gallen (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1992) offers a good deal of insight into Marshall’s role in the later segregation cases. There are several good biographies of Chief Justice Warren; the one that is strongest on Brown is G. Edward White’s Earl Warren: A Public Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982). Justice Frankfurter’s role is well explained in Felix Frankfurter: A Biography (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1969) by Liva Baker. A good overview of racial discrimination cases may be found in Loren Miller’s The Petitioners: The Story of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Negro (Cleveland: World, 1966). The history and development of affirmative action is extensively discussed in The Civil Rights Era: Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960-1972 by Hugh Davis Graham (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).
Brown v. Board of Education
Civil Rights Acts
Japanese American relocation
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Plessy v. Ferguson
Regents of the University of California v. Bakke
School integration and busing
Segregation, de facto
Segregation, de jure
Separate but equal doctrine