Court Cases








Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) | overview
Permitted segregation under the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. "Separate but equal"

Hocutt v. Wilson (1933) | overview
First test case involving segregation in higher education.

State of Missouri Ex Rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938) | overview
First decision establishing minimum content for equality within the Separate but equal doctrine.

Alston v. School Board of the City of Norfolk, Virginia (1940 4th Circuit) | overview
Teacher pay-equalization case from Virginia.

Sipuel v. Oklahoma State Board of Regents (1948) | overview
Ordered Oklahoma to provide a black applicant with legal education in a state law school.

McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education (1950) | overview
Ruled that a public institution of higher learning could not provide different treatment to a student solely because of his/her race as doing so deprived the student of his/her Fourteenth Amendment rights of Equal Protection.

Sweatt v. Painter (1950) | overview
The court held that, when considering graduate education, intangibles must be considered as part of "substantive equality."

Brown v. Board of Education (1954) | overview
Ruled segregation in public schools unconstitutional.

Brown v. Board of Education II (1955) | overview
Called for "all deliberate speed" in ending segregation.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Green v. County School Board of New Kent County (1968) | overview
Ruled that school boards had an affirmative duty "to come forward with a [desegregation] plan that … promises realistically to work now."

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971) | overview
The use of busing to desegregate public schools was the most controversial remedy imposed by the federal courts.

University of California Regents v. Bakke (1978) | overview
The Court decides that a public university may take race into account as a factor in admissions decisions.


Overview of the Topic | Literacy tests | Poll Tax | Grandfather clause

Williams v. Mississippi (1898) | overview
Reviewed provisions of the state constitution that required poll taxes and a literacy test for voting; found no discrimination since these requirements were applied to all voters.

Guinn v. United States (1915) | overview | website |
Found grandfather clause exemptions to literacy tests to be unconstitutional. Also consider Lane v. Wilson (1939).

Nixon v. Herndon (1927) | overview | overview2
Overturned a Texas statute prohibiting African Americans from participating in Democratic Party primary elections.

Nixon v. Condon (1932) | overview
Ruled that a recent Texas law delegating state power to the executive committee of the Democratic Party, which in turn bared African Americans from voting in primary elections, was an unconstitutional violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Grovey v. Townsend (1935) | overview
Upheld the Texas Democratic Party's resolution adopted in 1932 that only white Democrats could vote in primary elections.

Smith v. Allwright (1944) | overview
Overturned the Democratic Party's use of all-white primaries in Texas, and other states where the party used the rule.

Breedlove v. Suttles (1937) | overview
Upheld Georgia's annual poll tax.

Civil Rights Act of 1957
Placed the power of the federal government behind the voting rights of African Americans. Created U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Extended the jurisdiction of federal district courts to encompass any civil actions begun to recover damages or secure equitable relief under any act of Congress providing for the protection of civil rights, including the right to vote.

Lassiter v. Northampton Election Board (1959)
Rejected a black citizen's challenge to a state literacy test, finding that states have broad powers to determine the conditions of suffrage. The literacy test applied to voters of all races, and the Court would not draw the inference that it was being used to facilitate racial discrimination.

Baker v. Carr (1962) | overview
Landmark ruling that began federal court involvement in reapportionment disputes that affected citizen's voting rights.

Gray v. Sanders (1963) | overview
Invalidated Georgia's "county unit system," which weighed rural votes more heavily than urban votes in primary elections for statewide offices.

Reynolds v. Sims (1964) | overview
Stands out because of the "one man, one vote" principle articulated by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Warren declared that the basic aim of legislative apportionment is "fair and effective representation" for all citizens. As a result of this holding, states were compelled by court orders to devise their reapportionment plans so that every citizen had an equal vote in the political process, regardless of their geographical residence.

Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964)

Voting Rights Act of 1965

South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966) | overview
Upheld the constitutionality of portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Katzenbach v. Morgan (1966) | overview
This decision upheld the constitutionality of section 4(e) of the VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965. Section 4(e) provided that no person who had successfully completed sixth grade in a school in which the language of instruction was other than English should be denied the right to vote in any election because of his inability to read or write English. Target: Literacy tests.

Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) | overview
The Supreme Court, 6–3, overruled Breedlove v. Suttles (1937), holding that the Virginia poll tax denied the equal protection of the laws.


Overview of the Topic

Buchanan v. Warley (1917) | overview
Ruled that a Louisville, Kentucky, ordinance requiring residential segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Sweet Trials (1925-26) | website
Harrowing case involving a Detroit family accused of murder for defending their home in a "white neighborhood."

Corrigan and Curtis v. Buckley (1926) | overview
Let stand the decision of the lower courts that a racial covenant could be enforced, reasoning that while asking the states to enforce a restrictive covenant might constitute a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the same did not hold true within the federal District of Columbia.

Hansberry v. Lee (1940)
A case known for its impact on civil procedure; it dealt with restrictive covenants in Chicago.

Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) | overview
Ruled that "racially restrictive covenants" in property deeds are unenforceable. Shelley was one of four cases known collectively as the Restrictive Covenant Cases, the others being McGhee v. Sipes, Hurd v. Hodge, and Urciolo v. Hodge.

Barrows v. Jackson (1953) | overview
Ruled that a Los Angeles resident, Leola Jackson, could not be sued for damages incurred by her neighbors after she sold her house to African Americans even though the real estate contract under which Jackson herself had purchased the property contained a restrictive clause forbidding its subsequent sale to nonwhites.

Fair Housing Act of 1968 | overview

Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968)
The Court held in this case that federal law bars all racial discrimination (private or public), in sale or rental of property.

Overview of the Topic

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) | overview
Permitted segregation under the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. "Separate but equal"

McCabe v. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Company (1914)
Ruled that an Oklahoma law providing for segregated train cars applied only to commerce within the sate, and thus did not violate the U.S. Constitution's interstate commerce clause or the Fourteenth Amendment

Mitchell v. United States (1941)
Ruled that segregated accommodations in interstate travel violated the Interstate Commerce Act because they were unequal to those provided to white passengers.

Steele v. Louisville & Nashville Railroad (1944)

Morgan v. Virginia (1946) | overview
In a 7-1 vote, the Court, citing an undue burden on interstate travel, struck down the Virginia law that required segregation while traveling within the state.

"Journey of Reconciliation" (1947)

Henderson v. United States (1950) | overview
Ruled in favor of African American railroad passengers, holding that the seating practice in dining cars violated the Interstate Commerce Act.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
In the wake of the Brown decision, the ICC ruled that segregation of interstate passengers on trains, buses, and in waiting rooms was unlawful and ordered new rules for integration by January 10, 1956.

Montgomery Bus Boycott began on December 5, 1955 -- a few days after the ICC's 1955 ruling.

Browder v. Gayle (1956)
Federal district court ruled that bus segregation in Montgomery violated the Constitution. After an appeal by the city, the Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision in 1956. After a 381-day boycott.

Boynton v . Virginia (1960)
Ruled that a restaurant located in a Trailways bus terminal serving interstate passengers could not refuse service to blacks.

Bailey v. Patterson (1962)
Prohibited racial segregation of interstate and intrastate transportation facilities.

Freedom Rides

Civil Rights Act of 1964


Moore v. Dempsey (1923) | overview
Landmark due process and Fourteenth Amendment case.

Powell v. Alabama (1932) | overview
Ruled that in a defendant in a capital trial must be given access to counsel upon his or her request as part of due process.

Norris v. Alabama (1935) | overview
Ruled that organized exclusion of blacks from jury panels was a violation of a defendants' constitutional right to due process.

Chambers v. Florida (1940) | overview
Dealt with the extent that police pressure resulting in a criminal defendant's confession violates the Due Process clause. The case was argued by Thurgood Marshall, representing four black men convicted for the murder of a white man in Florida.

Smith v. Texas (1940); Hill v. Texas (1942); Atkins v. Texas (1945)

Loving v. Virginia (1967) | overview
Held that state laws prohibiting inter-racial marriage were unconstitutional.


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