In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Brown v. Board of Education (347 US 483)* ruled that segregation of public school children on the basis of race is unconstitutional, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the 14th Amendment does not apply to the Federal Government or to its agency, the District of Columbia. Therefore, it would have been legal for the District to operate segregated schools while it was illegal for states to do so.

A lawyer named Thurgood Marshall decided this was wrong and looked for a way to fight it. A lawsuit was filed arguing that discrimination on the basis of race violated the Fifth Amendment. The High Court agreed in the case of Bolling v. Sharpe, and since the 5th Amendment does apply to the Federal Government and the District, this lesser-known case is usually considered to be part and parcel with Brown.

Marshall would later go on to become the first black appointed to the Supreme Court.


U.S. Supreme Court
BOLLING v. SHARPE, 347 U.S. 497 (1954)*
347 U.S. 497

BOLLING ET AL. v. SHARPE ET AL.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT. No. 8.

Argued December 10-11, 1952.
Reargued December 8-9, 1953.
Decided May 17, 1954.

Racial segregation in the public schools of the District of Columbia is a denial to Negro children of the due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 498-500.
(a) Though the Fifth Amendment does not contain an equal protection clause, as does the Fourteenth Amendment which applies only to the States, the concepts of equal protection and due process are not mutually exclusive. P. 499.
(b) Discrimination may be so unjustifiable as to be violative of due process. P. 499.
(c) 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. Pp. 499-500.
(d) In view of this Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ante, p. 483, 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. P. 500.


See also: Landmark Case
* Click here to understand what those numbers mean

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