Sweatt v. Painter 339 U.S. 629 (1950) Mclaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents 339 U.S. 637 (1950)
SWEATT v. PAINTER 339 U.S. 629 (1950) MCLAURIN v. OKLAHOMA STATE REGENTS 339 U.S. 637 (1950)
Texas had established a separate law school for blacks; the state university law school thus rejected Sweatt, a black applicant. In McLaurin, the state university admitted a black to graduate study in education but made him sit in segregated classroom alcoves and at separate tables in the library and cafeteria. In both cases, state courts upheld the challenged segregation. In Sweatt the NAACP recruited some law professors to file a brief amicus curiae urging the Supreme Court to abandon the separate but equal doctrine and hold that state-sponsored segregation was unconstitutional. Eleven states supported the Texas position.
The Court unanimously held the practices of segregation in these cases unconstitutional, but it did not reach the broader issue. Chief Justice fred m. vinson wrote both opinions. In Sweatt he emphasized the intangibles of legal education: faculty reputation, influential alumni, traditions, prestige, and—most significant for the doctrinal future—a student body including members of a race that would produce an overwhelming majority of the judges, lawyers, witnesses, and jury members Sweatt might face. Assuming the continued vitality of "separate but equal," the new law school for blacks was not equal to the state university law school, and Sweatt must be admitted to the latter.
The McLaurin opinion, too, avoided direct attack on the separate-but-equal principle, but it sapped that principle's foundations: segregation impaired McLaurin's ability to study and learn, to discuss questions with other students and be accepted by them on his merits; thus the state must lift its restrictions on him.
In neither case did the Court discuss segregation's stigmatizing effects. In neither did the Court consider any asserted justifications for segregation. The only question was whether segregation produced significant inequality; affirmative answers to that question ended the Court's inquiries. Taken seriously, these decisions must lead—as they did, four years later—to the conclusion that racial segregation in public education is unconstitutional.
(See brown v. board of education.)
Kenneth L. Karst