Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education

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Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 23, 1969
Decided October 29, 1969
Full case name Beatrice Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education
Citations 396 U.S. 19 (more)
Holding
The still segregated southern schools must desegregate immediately.
Court membership
Case opinions
Per curiam.
Laws applied
Civil Rights Act of 1964

Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, 396 U.S. 19 (1969), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court ordered desegregation of schools in the American South.

Background[edit]

Justice Felix Frankfurter demanded that the opinion in 1955's Brown v. Board of Education II order desegregation with the (somewhat contradictory) phrase of "all deliberate speed".[1] The phrase gave the South an excuse to defy the law of the land.[1] For fifteen years, schools in the South remained segregated, until the Supreme Court's opinion in Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education.[2]

Early in the summer of 1969, the appeals court had asked the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to submit desegregation plans for thirty-three school districts in Mississippi, so HEW could order them implemented at the beginning of the school year.[3] HEW was responsible for drawing up desegregation plans, as mandated by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and had submitted the plans on time.[3] At the last minute, however, both HEW and the Justice Department asked the courts for extensions until December 1, claiming that the plans would result in confusion and setbacks.[3] This was the first time the federal government had supported a desegregation delay in the federal courts.[3] The Fifth Circuit granted the delay, and no specific date for implementing the actual desegregation plans was set.[3]

Justice Hugo Black, the supervisory Justice for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, saw this delay as Nixon's payoff to the South, as part of the "Southern Strategy" that had helped Nixon win the presidential election.[4] The NAACP contacted Black to contest the delay in desegregation.[5] On September 3, Black received a memo from the Justice Department - Solicitor General Griswold was urging that Black permit the Mississippi delay.[6] Black reluctantly permitted the delay as supervisory Justice, but invited the NAACP to bring the case to the Supreme Court as soon as possible.[7]

Issue[edit]

The desegregation orders of Brown I and Brown II were not followed and schools in the South were desegregating slowly if at all.[6] During lower court battles over segregation, school districts would remain segregated until all appeals were exhausted.[8] The petitioners, represented by Jack Greenberg, asked that the Court order the original HEW plans implemented, and proposed that the Court shift the burden of proof, making desegregation the main objective of them.[8]

Internal Court deliberations[edit]

New Chief Justice Warren Burger, appointed by President Nixon, did not at first think that the requested delay was unreasonable.[9]

Senior Associate Justice Hugo Black saw allowing any delay as a signal to the South to further delay desegregation; he suggested a short, simple order mandating immediate integration, with no mention of debate over plans or delay.[9] He threatened to dissent from any opinion mentioning the word "plan," which would shatter a much-desired unanimous Court opinion.[10] Justice William O. Douglas supported Black.[11]

Justice Harlan was not going along with any notion of "immediate desegregation", but he did support the overturning of the Fifth Circuit's delay.[12]

Justices Stewart, White, and Brennan were all initially put off by Black's demands for immediate desegregation.[13]

Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Court's only African-American, suggested an implementation deadline of January, the beginning of the next school semester.[14]

A majority of justices agreed on reversing the appeals court's decisions to grant a delay in the submission of plans, and on keeping the Court of Appeals in control, and on keeping the federal district court uninvolved, due to its years of allowing stalling.[14]

Warren Burger, along with Justices White and Harlan, drafted an early opinion with no "outside" deadline, but the court's three most liberal justices - Brennan, Marshall, and Douglas - rejected that draft, knowing it would be unpalatable to Justice Black.[15] The basic Court breakdown was 4 in favor of immediate desegregation and no full Court opinion (Black, Douglas, Brennan, and Marshall), and another 4 wanting a more practical, less absolute opinion.[16] Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.'s draft, made with the help of Justices Douglas and Marshall, and later presented to Justice Black, ordered immediate desegregation and would later come to be the Court's final opinion, with some edits by Harlan and Burger.[17]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The final opinion was a two-page per curiam that reflected the initial demands of Justice Black.[18]

The Court wrote that "The obligation of every school district is to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools."[18] The previously-set pace of "all deliberate speed" was no longer permissible.[18]

Subsequent developments[edit]

The decision was announced on October 29.[19]

Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina decried the decision, while praising President Richard Nixon for having "stood with the South in this case."[19] Former Alabama Governor George Wallace said the new Burger court was "no better than the Warren Court," and called the Justices "limousine hypocrites."[19]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 38.
  2. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Pages 37-38.
  3. ^ a b c d e Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 37.
  4. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Pages 36-37.
  5. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 36.
  6. ^ a b Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 39.
  7. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 40.
  8. ^ a b Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 41.
  9. ^ a b Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 43.
  10. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 44.
  11. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 45.
  12. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 46.
  13. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Pages 46-47.
  14. ^ a b Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 48.
  15. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 50.
  16. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 54.
  17. ^ Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Pages 51-55.
  18. ^ a b c Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 55.
  19. ^ a b c Woodward, Bob; Scott Armstrong (September 1979). The Brethren. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-24110-9. Page 56.

External links[edit]

  • Text of Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, 396 U.S. 19 (1969) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia