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Warren Court

Racial Discrimination

The first major decision of the Warren Court is arguably its most important. In BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954), the Court overruled the 1896 Supreme Court decision of PLESSY V. FERGUSON, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S. Ct. 1138, 41 L. Ed. 256, which had allowed racially segregated facilities on trains and by implication in public schools. The Court made clear that state-sponsored racial SEGREGATION of public schools was inherently unequal and that it violated the EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE of the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT.

The Brown decision helped trigger the modern CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. During the 1960s the Warren Court upheld federal civil right legislation, including the CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.) and the VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.). The Court struck down state laws that were racially discriminatory, including statutes that forbade racially mixed marriages. The Court applied the THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT, which abolished SLAVERY, to outlaw all discrimination in the sale and rental of property and in the making of contracts.

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