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PSC 314: Political theory and Constitutional Law.
Supreme Court Opinions:
Compiled (thanks) by Dr. Jeremy Lewis  Revised 9 Feb. 2003; click Reload or Refresh for latest version.


              No.8. Argued December 10-11, 1952.óReargued December 8-9, 1953.óDecided May 17, 1954.

                                            347 U.S. 497

           MR.CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.
            This case challenges the validity of segregation in the public schools of the District of Columbia. The
            petitioners, minors of the Negro race, allege that such segregation deprives them of due process of law
            under the Fifth Amendment. They were refused admission to a public school attended by white children
            solely because of their race. They sought the aid of the District Court for the District of Columbia in
            obtaining admission. That court dismissed their complaint. The Court granted a writ of certiorari before
            judgement in the Court of Appeals because of the importance of the constitutional question presented.
            344 U.S. 873.

            We have this day held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment Prohibits the
            states from maintaining racially segregated public schools.1 The legal problem in the District of
            Columbia is somewhat different however. The Fifth Amendment, which is applicable in the District of
            Columbia, does not contain an equal protection clause as does the Fourteenth Amendment which
            applies only to the estates But the concepts of equal protection and due process, both stemming from
            our American ideal of fairness, are not mutually exclusive. The "equal protection of the laws" is a more
            explicit safeguard of prohibited unfairness than "due process of law, " and , therefore, we do not imply
            that the two are always interchangeable phrases. But, as this Court has recognized, discrimination
            may be so unjustifiable as to violative of due process. 2

            Classifications based solely upon race must be scrutinized with particular care, since they are contrary
            to our traditions and hence constitutionally suspect. 3 As long ago as 1896, this Court declared the
            principle "that the Constitution of the United States, in its present form, forbids, so far as civil and
            political rights are concerned, discrimination by the General Government, or by the States, against any
            citizen because of his race." 4 And in Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60, the Court held that a statute
            which limited the right of a property owner to convey his property to a person of another race was, as
            an unreasonable discrimination, a denial of due process of law.

            Although the Court has not assumed to define "liberty" with any great precision, that term is not
            confined to mere freedom from bodily restraint. Liberty under law extends to the full range of conduct
            which the individual is free to pursue, and it cannot be restricted except for a proper governmental
            objective. Segregation in public education is not reasonably related to any proper governmental
            objective, and thus it imposes on Negro children of the District of Columbia a burden that constitutes
            an arbitrary deprivation of their liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause.

            In view of our decision that the Constitution prohibits the states from maintaining racially segregated
            public schools, it would be unthinkable that the same Constitution would impose a lesser duty on the
            Federal Government. 5 We hold that racial segregation in the public schools of the District of Columbia
            is a denial f the due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
            For the reasons set out in Brown v. Board of Education, this case will be restored to the docket for
            reargument on Questions 4 and 5 previously propounded by the Court. 345 U.S. 972.

                                                                           It is so ordered.

            1 Brown v Board of Education, ante, p. 483.
            2 Detroit Bank v. United States, 317 U.S. 329; Currin v. Wallace, 306 U.S. 1, 13-14; Steward Machine
            Co. v. Davis, 301 U.S. 548, 595.
            3 Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 216; Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81, 100.
            4 Gibson v. Mississippi, 162 U.S. 565, 591. Cf. Steele v. Louisville and Nashville R. Co., 323 U.S.
            192, 198-199.
            5 Cf. Hurd v. Hodge, 334 U.S. 24.