History Of Warren Court On Civil Rights

Essay, Research Paper

The Warren Supreme Court and its Effects on African-American Civil Liberties

The Sixties was a time of change in America, and the American public began to have more liberal views. When Earl Warren became Chief Justice of Supreme Court it made the most dramatic changes and held a far more liberal view than any other Supreme Court before. Some of its most profound rulings were on African-American civil liberties. The Supreme Court changed American law on segregation in schools and in public places, voting, black freedom of speech, and jury selection. Before the Warren Court the American law treated blacks as second class citizens, and by the end of Justice Warren s term racial equality was inevitable.

President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren to the supreme in 1953 after the death of Chief Justice Vision. Warren had previously been a District Attorney and Governor in California. The Supreme Court that Warren joined was described by Professor Fred Rodell of the Yale Law school as the most brilliant and able collection of justices who ever graced the high bench together. With Warren on the bench, the Supreme Court began to move away from the moderate conservative view and turned to a more liberal out look.

The first noticeable change in the Warren Supreme Court s outlook on African-American civil rights came as early as the Court s 1953 and 1954 terms. Brown versus The Board of Education (1954, 1955) was the first landmark case of the Warren Court. The case came from the states of Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Delaware. In each case young black children were seeking admittance to the public schools of their town. They had all been denied admittance to schools attended by white children under the laws that permitted segregation by race, if the facilities were separate but equal . The Blacks argued that segregated public schools are not equal and could not be made equal, and therefore it deprived their equal protection and violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

The Warren Court ruled that the racial segregation of public schools was unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under this ruling the court found that the segregation in the public school system was unlawful because it is inherently unequal. Then the Warren Court set out the guidelines for eliminating segregation in the schools by issuing the Brown II Doctrine, which left the enforcement of their decisions upon the state. Though the ruling in the Brown case didn t make integration effective immediately it help fuel the Black Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties and the court had set the precedent that segregation was unlawful. By making segregation illegal in one area the Court set the ball rolling to expand civil rights and put an end to racial discrimination in all aspects of life.

The Warren Court struck down racial discrimination in Burton versus Wilmington Parking Authority (1960). The Parking Authority was involved when its lessee, a restaurant, refused to serve a black man because of the color of his skin. The Warren Court ruled that since the building is publicly owned the restaurant s actions violate the Fourteenth Amendment. From this case the state action doctrine which states that any federal or state government run agency or building can not discriminate against colored people.

In the case Bailey versus Patterson colored people living in Jackson, Mississippi, were denied the service of non-segregated interstate transportation. They alleged their rights were disallowed under the color of state statues, municipal ordinances, and state custom and usage. The Warren Court ruled that the Mississippi laws governing segregation of interstate transportation violated the defendants constitutional rights. This ruling was a great blow to the Jim Crow Laws of the South. The Warren Court striking down segregation laws and helping expand black civil liberties throughout the nation.

The Warren Court also applied the principal of the state action concept to cases involving the right to vote. Using the concept the Warren Court systematically struck down all types of state schemes such as the Grandfather clause , white primaries, and the use of racial designations on ballots. Under the Fifteenth Amendment whenever these or similar actions are taken by state officials or by private persons who are actually doing functions of the state. The Supreme Court has ruled these actions unconstitutional under the fifteenth Amendment.

The Warren Court upheld the voting rights of colored people in Lasiter versus Northampton Election Board. A colored citizen of North Carolina sued to have the literacy tests for voting abolished. The law was part of a provision of the North Carolina Constitution, which made all voters pass a literacy test, and it also included a grandfather clause. The Court ruled that discrimination based upon literacy went against the Fifteenth Amendment and the tests could be employed to further racial discrimination in voting rights.

The Warren Court also secured African-American equal rights in jury selection. The case Eubanks versus Louisiana dealt with racial discrimination in the selection of a grand jury for a murder trail. An all white jury in the parish of New Orleans indicted the defendant. The defendant charged that colored people were systematically excluded from jury selection. After hearing that there was not a single colored person on the jury the Warren Court reversed the indictment of the Louisiana grand and upheld the defendant s rights of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. This ruling meant that the states where forced to give colored people a fair trail. They could no longer just streamline them into charges and give them an unfair trail. Now colored people where assured they would get a fair trail and be judged by a jury of their peers.



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