Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County

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Griffin v. School Board
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 30, 1964
Decided May 25, 1964
Full case name Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County
Citations 377 U.S. 218 (more)
Closing public schools for the sole purpose of race and providing incentives to attend private segregated schools are violations of the Equal Protection Clause. United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Black, joined by Warren, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg, Clark (in part), Harlan (in part)
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Amend. XIV

Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 377 U.S. 218 (1964), is a case decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that held that the County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia's decision to close all local, public schools and provide vouchers to attend private schools were constitutionally impermissible as violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


In light of the court's holding in Brown v. Board of Education, Virginia initiated a coordinated policy known as massive resistance to maintain segregationist policies. A legislative package known as the Stanley plan was enacted. Numerous public schools had been closed through the tactics of massive resistance. However, when the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors was ordered to integrate the public schools under its jurisdiction in June 1959, it took the unusual and extreme step of not appropriating any money for the school system, forcing all public schools in the county to close for the next five years.

In the absence of public schools, Prince Edward County provided tuition grants to its students – Black or White. No private schools existed for Blacks, as all private schools in the region remained segregated. An offer was made and rejected to establish a private school for Blacks. This was, in part, because many of the Black residents of Prince Edward County wanted "to continue the legal battle for desegregated public schools."[1] Subsequently, "colored children were without formal education from 1959 to 1963, when federal, state, and county authorities cooperated to have classes conducted for Negroes and whites in school buildings owned by the county."[1]

In 1963, a federal court ordered the county board to fund the schools. The county appealed to the Supreme Court.


Draft of first page of decision

The Supreme Court, in a decision authored by Justice Hugo Black, ordered the schools reopened. It held that the supervisors' action violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

For the same reasons the District Court may, if necessary to prevent further racial discrimination, require the Supervisors to exercise the power that is theirs to levy taxes to raise funds adequate to reopen, operate, and maintain without racial discrimination a public school system in Prince Edward County like that operated in other counties in Virginia.

—Griffin v. School Bd. of Prince Edward Cty., 377 US 218 - Supreme Court 1964

This case marked the first time that the Supreme Court ordered a county government to exercise their power of taxation.[2]

This unusual level of intervention in the function of local government provoked a dissent by Justices Clark and Harlan:

MR. JUSTICE CLARK and MR. JUSTICE HARLAN disagree with the holding that the federal courts are empowered to order the reopening of the public schools in Prince Edward County . . .

—Griffin v. School Bd. of Prince Edward Cty., 377 US 218 - Supreme Court 1964

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Griffin, 377 U.S. 223.
  2. ^ "A Nation of Liberties". The Supreme Court. Episode 3. PBS. "Michael J. Klarman: They order that the schools be re-opened, and indeed they order a tax increase to fund public education, which is something they'd never done before. But they're so fed up by 1964 that the justices now feel liberated to adopt some unusual methods in responding to Southern recalcitrance."

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