Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada

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Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued November 9, 1938
Decided December 12, 1938
Full case nameState of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, Registrar of the University of Missouri, et al.
Citations305 U.S. 337 (more)
59 S. Ct. 232; 83 L. Ed. 208; 1938 U.S. LEXIS 440
Case history
PriorThe Circuit Court denied the writ. The Missouri Supreme Court upheld the judgment against Gaines, 113 S.W.2d 783 (Mo. 1937); cert. granted, 305 U.S. 580 (1938).
SubsequentRehearing denied, 305 U.S. 676 (1939); remanded, 131 S.W.2d 217 (Mo. 1939).
States that provide only one educational institution must allow blacks and whites to attend if there is no separate school for blacks.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Charles E. Hughes
Associate Justices
James C. McReynolds · Louis Brandeis
Pierce Butler · Harlan F. Stone
Owen Roberts · Hugo Black
Stanley F. Reed
Case opinions
MajorityHughes, joined by Brandeis, Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed
DissentMcReynolds, joined by Butler
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938), was a United States Supreme Court decision holding that states which provided a school to white students had to provide in-state education to blacks as well. States could satisfy this requirement by allowing blacks and whites to attend the same school or creating a second school for blacks.[1]


The Registrar at the Law School of the University of Missouri, Silas Woodson Canada, refused admission to Lloyd Gaines because he was black.[2] At the time, blacks could attend no law school specifically in the state. Gaines cited that the refusal violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The State of Missouri had offered to pay for Gaines's tuition at an adjacent state's law school, which he turned down.

The issue was whether Missouri violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by affording whites, not blacks, the ability to attend law school within the state.


Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes held that when the state provides legal training, it must provide it to every qualified person to satisfy equal protection. It can neither send them to other states, nor condition that training for one group of people, such as blacks, on levels of demand from that group. Key to the court's conclusion was that there was no provision for legal education of blacks in Missouri so Missouri law guaranteeing equal protection applied. Sending Gaines to another state would have been irrelevant.

Justice James C. McReynolds's dissent emphasized a body of case law, with sweeping statements about state control of education before suggesting the possibility that despite the majority opinion, Missouri could still deny Gaines admission.

The decision did not quite strike down separate but equal facilities, upheld in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Instead, it provided that if there was only one school, students of all races could be admitted. The decision struck down segregation by exclusion if the government provided just one school, making the decision in this case a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

This marked the beginning of the Supreme Court's reconsideration of Plessy. The Supreme Court did not overturn Plessy v. Ferguson or violate the "separate but equal" precedents but began to concede the difficulty and near-impossibility of a state maintaining segregated black and white institutions that could never be truly equal. Therefore, it can be said that this case helped forge the legal framework for Brown v. Board of Education, which banned segregation in public schools.

Despite the initial victory claimed by the NAACP, after the Supreme Court had ruled in Gaines' favor and ordered the Missouri Supreme Court to reconsider the case, Gaines was nowhere to be found. When the University of Missouri soon after moved to dismiss the case, the NAACP did not oppose the motion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938).
  2. ^ Arnold G. Parks (15 August 2007). Lincoln University: 1920-1970. Arcadia Publishing. pp. 90–. ISBN 978-0-7385-5132-6. Retrieved 27 March 2013.

External links[edit]