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Brown Vs. Board of Education: Law or Politics?

Michael J. Klarman

Harvard University

December 2002

UVA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 02-11

This essay analyzes the justices' internal deliberations in Brown v. Board of Education, based on the conference notes, with the goal of explaining why they found the case so hard. (At the first conference discussion, in December 1952, it was not obvious whether a majority existed to overrule Plessy v. Ferguson). I argue that for several justices, most notably Frankfurter and Jackson, Brown presented a conflict between law (as they understood it) and politics. Though they thought racial segregation a clear moral evil, they did not believe it was unconstitutional according to the conventional sources of constitutional interpretation - text, original intent, precedent, custom. The essay also tries to explain how a closely divided Court became unanimous and why school segregation struck most justices as an obvious moral wrong at a time when the nation was divided down the middle.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 38

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Date posted: November 23, 2002  

Suggested Citation

Klarman, Michael J., Brown Vs. Board of Education: Law or Politics? (December 2002). UVA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 02-11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=353361 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.353361

Contact Information

Michael J. Klarman (Contact Author)
Harvard University ( email )
1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
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