Cooper v. Aaron

Following is the case brief for Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958)

Case Summary of Cooper v. Aaron:

  • After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its now famous Brown v. Board of Education decision, desegregating the schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, the Governor and Legislature of Arkansas actively resisted the Court’s decision.
  • The chaos and turmoil the state officials created was so bad that the School Board trying to implement the Court-ordered desegregation plan asked the federal District Court to allow segregation of the schools to continue for two and a half more years.
  • The District Court granted the relief, but the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Eighth Circuit, holding that the desegregation plan must continue and that state officials like the Governor and the State Legislature must follow the Supreme Court’s decision.

Cooper v. Aaron Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

In 1954, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decided the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision, which held that racial segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  Following that decision, the Little Rock School Board and School Superintendent began to implement a desegregation plan.  By 1957, nine black American school children were set to attend Central High School in Little Rock in the Fall of that year.

However, the Governor of Arkansas ordered National Guard troops to block the nine black school children from attending the high school.  Further, the Arkansas Legislature passed laws designed to defy the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision.  With regard to the nine black students, they were eventually permitted to attend the school with the help of federal troops.  But the school year was marred by chaos and turmoil due to the virulent discrimination directed at the nine black students.

The Governor’s and Legislature’s behavior was so bad, in fact, that the School Board – though trying diligently to carry out the desegregation plan – asked the District Court to suspend the desegregation plan for two and a half years because of the terrible, violent school year that the black students had to endure.

Procedural History:

  • The District Court granted the relief requested by the School Board.
  • The Eighth Circuit reversed that District Court’s decision.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Can a State be allowed to postpone implementation of a Supreme Court order because of defiant actions of the State’s Governor and Legislature?  No.

Judgment:

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decision is affirmed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land, and a State must follow an order from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reasoning:

The unanimous Court fully understood the dilemma of the School Board.  It knew that the School Board was trying to implement the Court’s desegregation plan in good faith.  However, it was also aware that the Arkansas Governor and the Legislature were doing everything in their power to openly defy the Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling.  In so doing, the state officials were creating chaos, such that it was virtually impossible for the Little Rock police and other law enforcement officials to quell the demonstrations and violence against the nine black students.

That said, the Court could not in good conscience grant the School Board’s request for a delay in desegregation.  It is not just to deny equal protection to Americans simply to avoid turmoil and violence from demonstrators.

Further, the Governor and Legislature are wrong to think that they are not bound by the Court’s decision in Brown.  The Constitution is the “supreme law of the land.”  The States are bound to follow the Supreme Court’s authority to say what the law is.  The freedoms in the Constitution are only realized if all State’s obey the Constitution.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:

Concurring Opinion (Frankfurter):

An immense issue is at stake here.  Forcible interference of a Supreme Court decision by a State violates the Constitution.  Arkansas officials are creating a terrible situation in order to undo a decision already made by the Court.  Such recalcitrant behavior cannot be countenanced.

Significance:

Cooper v. Aaron is significant because it expressly states the fundamental principle that a State must follow a Supreme Court order.  The case is also significant because it provides some historical perspective on how difficult it was to desegregate the schools after Brown.  Indeed, the Governor and Legislature of Arkansas were so racist, and disrespectful to the Constitution, that they created chaos in their official capacity to stop desegregation at all costs.

 

Student Resources:

Read the Court Opinion

Listen to the Oral Arguments

 

 

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