305 U.S. 337 (1938), 57, Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada

Docket Nº:No. 57
Citation:305 U.S. 337, 59 S.Ct. 232, 83 L.Ed. 208
Party Name:Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada
Case Date:December 12, 1938
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 337

305 U.S. 337 (1938)

59 S.Ct. 232, 83 L.Ed. 208

Missouri ex rel. Gaines



No. 57

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 12, 1938

Argued November 9, 1938



1. The State of Missouri provides separate schools and universities for whites and negroes. At the state university, attended by whites, there is a course in law; at the Lincoln University, attended by negroes, there is as yet none, but it is the duty of the curators of that institution to establish one there whenever in their opinion this shall be necessary and practicable, and pending such development, they are authorized to arrange for legal education of Missouri negroes, and to pay the tuition charges therefor, at law schools in adjacent States where negroes are accepted and where the training is equal to that obtainable at the Missouri State University. Pursuant to the State's policy of separating the races in its educational institutions, the curators of the state university refused to admit a negro as a student in the law school there because of his race; whereupon he sought a mandamus, in the state courts, which was denied.


(1) That inasmuch as the curators of the state university represented the State, in carrying out its policy, their action in denying the negro admission to the law school was state action within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 343.

(2) The action of the State in furnishing legal education within the State to whites while not furnishing legal education within the State to negroes was a discrimination repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 344.

If a State furnishes higher education to white residents, it is bound to furnish substantially equal advantages to negro residents, though not necessarily in the same schools.

(3) The unconstitutional discrimination is not avoided by the purpose of the State to establish a law school for negroes whenever necessary and practicable in the opinion of the curators of the University provided for negroes. P. 346.

(4) Nor are the requirements of the equal protection clause satisfied by the opportunities afforded by Missouri to its negro citizens for legal education in other States. P. 348.

The basic consideration here is not as to what sort of opportunities other States provide, or whether they are as good as those

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in Missouri, but as to what opportunities Missouri itself furnishes to white students and denies to negroes solely upon the ground of color. The admissibility of laws separating the races in the enjoyment of privileges afforded by the State rests wholly upon the equality of the privileges which the laws give to the separated groups within the State. By the operation of the laws of Missouri, a privilege has been created for white law students which is denied to negroes by reason of their race. The white resident is afforded legal education within the State; the negro resident having the same qualifications is refused it there, and must go outside the State to obtain it. That is a denial of the equality of legal right to the enjoyment of the privilege which the State has set up, and the provision for the payment of tuition fees in another State does not remove the discrimination. P. 348.

(5) The obligation of the State to give the protection of equal laws can be performed only where its laws operate, that is, within its own jurisdiction. It is there that the equality of legal right must be maintained. That obligation is imposed by the Constitution upon the States severally as governmental entities each responsible for its own laws establishing the rights and duties of persons within its borders. P. 350.

(6) The fact that there is but a limited demand in Missouri for the legal education of negroes does not excuse the discrimination in favor of whites. P. 350.

(7) Inasmuch as the discrimination may last indefinitely -- so long as the curators find it unnecessary and impracticable to provide facilities for the legal education of negroes within the State, the alternative of attendance at law schools in other States being provided meanwhile -- it cannot be excused as a temporary discrimination. P. 351.

2. The state court decided this case upon the merits of the federal question, and not upon the propriety of remedy by mandamus. P. 352.

342 Mo. 121; 113 S.W.2d 783, reversed.

CERTIORARI, post, p. 580, to review a judgment affirming denial of a writ of mandamus.

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HUGHES, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Lloyd Gaines, a negro, was refused admission to the School of Law at the State University of Missouri. Asserting that this refusal constituted a denial by the State of the equal protection of the laws in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution, petitioner brought this action for mandamus to compel the curators of the University to admit him. On final hearing, an alternative writ was quashed and a peremptory writ was denied by the Circuit Court. The Supreme Court of the State affirmed the judgment. 113 S.W.2d 783. We granted certiorari, October 10, 1938.

Petitioner is a citizen of Missouri. In August, 1935, he was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts at the Lincoln University, an institution maintained by the State of Missouri for the higher education of negroes. That University has no law school. Upon the filing of his application for admission to the law school of the University of Missouri, the registrar advised him to communicate with the president of Lincoln University, and the latter directed petitioner's attention to § 9622 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri (1929), providing as follows:

Sec. 9622. May arrange for attendance at university of any adjacent state -- Tuition fees. -- Pending the full development of the Lincoln university, the board of

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curators shall have the authority to arrange for the attendance of negro residents of the state of Missouri at the university of any adjacent state to take any course or to study any subjects provided for at the state university of Missouri, and which are not taught at the Lincoln university and to pay the reasonable tuition fees for such attendance; provided that, whenever the board of curators deem it advisable, they shall have the power to open any necessary school or department. (Laws 1921, p. 86, § 7.)

Petitioner was advised to apply to the State Superintendent of Schools for aid under that statute. It was admitted on the trial that petitioner's

work and credits at the Lincoln University would qualify him for admission to the School of Law of the University of Missouri if he were found otherwise eligible.

He was refused admission upon the ground that it was "contrary to the constitution, laws and public policy of the State to admit a negro as a student in the University of Missouri." It appears that there are schools of law in connection with the state universities...

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