COOPER V. AARON, 358 U. S. 1 (1958)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958)

Cooper v. Aaron

No. 1

Argued September 11, 1958

Decided September 12, 1958*

Opinion announced September 29, 1958

358 U.S. 1


Under a plan of gradual desegregation of the races in the public schools of Little Rock, Arkansas, adopted by petitioners and approved by the courts below, respondents, Negro children, were ordered admitted to a previously all-white high school at the beginning of the 1957-1958 school year. Due to actions by the Legislature and Governor of the State opposing desegregation, and to threats of mob violence resulting therefrom, respondents were unable to attend the school until troops were sent and maintained there by the Federal Government for their protection; but they

Page 358 U. S. 2

attended the school for the remainder of that school year. Finding that these events had resulted in tensions, bedlam, chaos and turmoil in the school, which disrupted the educational process, the District Court, in June, 1958, granted petitioners' request that operation of their plan of desegregation be suspended for two and one-half years, and that respondents be sent back to segregated schools. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed, and the orders of the District Court enforcing petitioners' plan of desegregation are reinstated, effective immediately. Pp. 358 U. S. 4-20.

1. This Court cannot countenance a claim by the Governor and Legislature of a State that there is no duty on state officials to obey federal court orders resting on this Court's considered interpretation of the United States Constitution in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U. S. 483. P. 358 U. S. 4.

2. This Court rejects the contention that it should uphold a suspension of the Little Rock School Board's plan to do away with segregated public schools in Little Rock until state laws and efforts to upset and nullify its holding in the Brown case have been further challenged and tested in the courts. P. 358 U. S. 4.

3. In many locations, obedience to the duty of desegregation will require the immediate general admission of Negro children, otherwise qualified as students for their appropriate classes at particular schools. P. 358 U. S. 7.

4. If, after analysis of the relevant factors (which, of course, excludes hostility to racial desegregation), a District Court concludes that justification exists for not requiring the present nonsegregated admission of all qualified Negro children to public schools, it should scrutinize the program of the school authorities to make sure that they have developed arrangements pointed toward the earliest practicable completion of desegregation, and have taken appropriate steps to put their program into effective operation. P. 358 U. S. 7.

5. The petitioners stand in this litigation as the agents of the State, and they cannot assert their good faith as an excuse for delay in implementing the respondents' constitutional rights when vindication of those rights has been rendered difficult or impossible by the actions of other state officials. Pp. 358 U. S. 15-16.

6. The constitutional rights of respondents are not to be sacrificed or yielded to the violence and disorder which have followed

Page 358 U. S. 3

upon the actions of the Governor and Legislature, and law and order are not here to be preserved by depriving the Negro children of their constitutional rights. P. 358 U. S. 16.

7. The constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color declared by this Court in the Brown case can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executives or judicial officers, nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted "ingeniously or ingenuously." Pp. 358 U. S. 16-17.

8. The interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment enunciated by this Court in the Brown case is the supreme law of the land, and Art. VI of the Constitution makes it of binding effect on the States "any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." P. 358 U. S. 18.

9. No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his solemn oath to support it. P. 358 U. S. 18.

10. State support of segregated schools through any arrangement, management, funds or property cannot be squared with the command of the Fourteenth Amendment that no State shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. P. 358 U. S. 19.

257 F.2d 33, affirmed.

Page 358 U. S. 4

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