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Brief for Appellants


I. The State of Kansas in affording opportunities for elementary education to its citizens has no power under the Constitution of the United States to impose racial restrictions and distinctions While the State of Kansas has undoubted power to confer benefits or impose disabilities upon selected groups of citizens in the normal execution of governmental functions, it must conform to constitutional standards in the exercise of this authority. These standards may be generally characterized as a requirement that the state's action be reasonable. Reasonableness in a constitutional sense is determined by examining the action of the state to discover whether the distinctions or restrictions in issue are in fact based upon real differences pertinent to a lawful legislative objective. Bain Peanut Co. v. Pinson, 282 U.S. 499; Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U.S. 61; Asbury Hospital v. Cass County, 326 U.S. 207; Metropolitan Casualty Insurance Co. v. Brownell, 294 U.S. 580; Dominion Hotel v. Arizona, 249 U.S. 265.

When the distinctions imposed are based upon race and color alone, the state's action is patently the epitome of that arbitrariness and capriciousness constitutionally impermissive under our system of government. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356; Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535. A racial criterion is a constitutional irrelevance, Edwards v. California, 314 U.S. 160, 184, and is not saved from condemnation even though dictated by a sincere desire to avoid the possibility of violence or race friction. Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60; Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373. Only because it was a war measure designed to cope with a grave national emergency was the federal government permitted to level restrictions against persons of enemy descent. Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81; Oyama v. California, 332 U.S. 633. This action, "odious," Hirabayashi v. United States, supra, at page 100, and "suspect," Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 216, even in times of national peril, must cease as soon as that peril is past. Ex Parte Endo, 323 U.S. 283.

This Court has found violation of the equal protection clause in racial distinctions and restrictions imposed by the states in selection for jury service, Shepherd v. Florida, 341 U.S. 50; ownership and occupancy of real property, Shelley v. Kramer, 334 U.S. 1; Buchanan v. Warley, supra; gainful employment, Takahashi v. Fish and Game Commission, 334 U.S. 410; voting, Nixon v. Condon, 286 U.S. 73; and graduate and professional education. McLaurin v. Board of Regents, supra; Sweatt v. Painter, supra. The commerce clause in proscribing the imposition of racial distinctions and restrictions in the field of interstate travel is a further limitation of state power in this regard. Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373.

Since 1940, in an unbroken line of decisions, this Court has clearly enunciated the doctrine that the state may not validly impose distinctions and restrictions among its citizens based upon race or color alone in each field of governmental activity where question has been raised. Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649; Sipuel v. Board of Education, 332 U.S. 631; Sweatt v. Painter, supra; Pierre v. Louisiana, 306 U.S. 354; Hill v. Texas, 316 U.S. 400; Morgan v. Virginia, supra; McLaurin v. Board of Regents, supra; Oyama v. California, supra; Takahashi v. Fish and Game Commission, supra; Shelley v. Kraemer, supra; Shepherd v. Florida, supra; Cassell v. Texas, 339 U.S. 282. On the other hand, when the state has sought to protect its citizenry against racial discrimination and prejudice, its action has been consistently upheld, Railway Mail Association v. Corsi, 326 U.S. 88, even though taken in the field of foreign commerce. Bob-Lo Excursion Co. v. Michigan, 333 U.S. 28.

It follows, therefore, that under this doctrine, the State of Kansas which by statutory sanctions seeks to subject appellants, in their pursuit of elementary education, to distinctions based upon race or color alone, is here attempting to exceed the constitutional limits to its authority. For that racial distinction which has been held arbitrary in so many other areas of governmental activity is no more appropriate and can be no more reasonable in public education.

II. The court below, having found that appellants were denied equal educational opportunities by virtue of the segregated school system, erred in denying the relief prayed The court below made the following finding of fact:

"Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group. A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. Segregation with the sanction of law, therefore, has a tendency to retard the educational and mental development of negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system."

This finding is based upon uncontradicted testimony that conclusively demonstrates that racial segregation injures infant appellants in denying them the opportunity available to all other racial groups to learn to live, work and cooperate with children representative of approximately 90% of the population of the society in which they live (R. 216); to develop citizenship skills; and to adjust themselves personally and socially in a setting comprising a cross-section of the dominant population (R. 132). The testimony further developed the fact that the enforcement of segregation under law denies to the Negro status, power and privilege (R. 176); interferes with his motivation for learning (R. 171); and instills in him a feeling of inferiority (R. 169) resulting in a personal insecurity, confusion and frustration that condemns him to an ineffective role as a citizen and member of society (R. 165). Moreover, it was demonstrated that racial segregation is supported by the myth of the Negro's inferiority (R. 177), and where, as here, the state enforces segregation, the community at large is supported in or converted to the belief that this myth has substance in fact (R. 156, 169, 177). It was testified that because of the peculiar educational system in Kansas that requires segregation only in the lower grades, there is an additional injury in that segregation occurring at an early age is greater in its impact and more permanent in its effects (R. 172) even though there is a change to integrated schools at the upper levels.

That these conclusions are the consensus of social scientists is evidenced by the appendix filed herewith. Indeed, the findings of the court that segregation constitutes discrimination are supported on the face of the statute itself where it states that:" * * * no discrimination on account of color shall be made in high schools except as provided herein * * * " (emphasis supplied).

Under the Fourteenth Amendment equality of educational opportunities necessitates an evaluation of all factors affecting the educational process. Sweatt v. Painter, supra; McLaurin v. Board of Regents, supra. Applying this yardstick, any restrictions or distinction based upon race or color that places the Negro at a disadvantage in relation to other racial groups in his pursuit of educational opportunities is violative of the equal protection clause.

In the instant case, the court found as a fact that appellants were placed at such a disadvantage and were denied educational opportunities equal to those available to white students. It necessarily follows, therefore, that the court should have concluded as a matter of law that appellants were deprived of their right to equal educational opportunities in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Under the mistaken notion that Plessy v. Ferguson and Gong Lum v. Rice were controlling with respect to the validity of racial distinctions in elementary education, the trial court refused to conclude that appellants were here denied equal educational opportunities in violation of their constitutional rights. Thus, notwithstanding that it had found inequality in educational opportunity as a fact, the court concluded as a matter of law that such inequality did not constitute a denial of constitutional rights, saying:

"Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, and Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U.S. 78, uphold the constitutionality of a legally segregated school system in the lower grades and no denial of due process results from the maintenance of such a segregated system of schools absent discrimination in the maintenance of the segregated schools. We conclude that the above-cited cases have not been overruled by the later case of McLaurin v. Oklahoma, 339 U.S. 637, and Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629."

Plessy v. Ferguson is not applicable. Whatever doubts may once have existed in this respect were removed by this Court in Sweatt v. Painter, supra, at page 635, 636.

Gong Lum v. Rice is irrelevant to the issues in this case. There, a child of Chinese parentage was denied admission to a school maintained exclusively for white children and was ordered to attend a school for Negro children. The power of the state to make racial distinctions in its school system was not in issue. Petitioner contended that she had a constitutional right to go to school with white children, and that in being compelled to attend school with Negroes, the state had deprived her of the equal protection of the laws.

Further, there was no showing that her educational opportunities had been diminished as a result of the state's compulsion, and it was assumed by the Court that equality in fact existed. There the petitioner was not inveighing against the system, but that its application resulted in her classification as a Negro rather than as a white person, and indeed by so much conceded the propriety of the system itself. Were this not true, this Court would not have found basis for holding that the issue raised was one "which has been many times decided to be within the constitutional power of the state" and, therefore, did not "call for very full argument and consideration."

In short, she raised no issue with respect to the state's power to enforce racial classifications, as do appellants here. Rather, her objection went only to her treatment under the classification. This case, therefore, cannot be pointed to as a controlling precedent covering the instant case in which the constitutionality of the system itself is the basis for attack and in which it is shown the inequality in fact exists.

In any event the assumptions in the Gong Lum case have since been rejected by this Court. In the Gong Lum case, without "full argument and consideration," the Court assumed the state had power to make racial distinctions in its public schools without violating the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and assumed the state and lower federal court cases cited in support of this assumed state power had been correctly decided. Language in Plessy v. Ferguson was cited in support of these assumptions. These assumptions upon full argument and consideration were rejected in the McLaurin and Sweatt cases in relation to racial distinctions in state graduate and professional education. And, according to those cases, Plessy v. Ferguson is not controlling for the purpose of determining the state's power to enforce racial segregation in public schools.

Thus, the very basis of the decision in the Gong Lum case has been destroyed. We submit, therefore, that this Court has considered the basic issue involved here only in those cases dealing with racial distinctions in education at the graduate and professional levels. Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337; Sipuel v. Board of Education, supra; Fisher v. Hurst, 333 U.S. 147; Sweatt v. Painter, supra; McLaurin v. Board of Regents, supra.

In the McLaurin and Sweatt cases, this Court measured the effect of racial restrictions upon the educational development of the individual affected, and took into account the community's actual evaluation of the schools involved. In the instant case, the court below found as a fact that racial segregation in elementary education denoted the inferiority of Negro children and retarded their educational and mental development. Thus the same factors which led to the result reached in the McLaurin and Sweatt cases are present. Their underlying principles, based upon sound analyses, control the instant case.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Brief for Appellants - Appeal From The United States District Court For The District Of Kansasbrief For Appellants, Questions Presented - In the Supreme Court of the United States October Term (1952), OPINION BELOW, JURISDICTION