339 U.S. 629 (1950), 44, Sweatt v. Painter

Docket Nº:No. 44
Citation:339 U.S. 629, 70 S.Ct. 848, 94 L.Ed. 1114
Party Name:Sweatt v. Painter
Case Date:June 05, 1950
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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339 U.S. 629 (1950)

70 S.Ct. 848, 94 L.Ed. 1114

Sweatt

v.

Painter

No. 44

United States Supreme Court

June 5, 1950

Argued April 4, 1950

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF TEXAS

Syllabus

Petitioner was denied admission to the state supported University of Texas Law School, solely because he is a Negro and state law forbids the admission of Negroes to that Law School. He was offered, but he refused, enrollment in a separate law school newly established by the State for Negroes. The University of Texas Law School has 16 full-time and three part-time professors, 850 students, a library of 65,000 volumes, a law review, moot court facilities, scholarship funds, an Order of the Coif affiliation, many distinguished alumni, and much tradition and prestige. The separate law school for Negroes has five full-time professors, 23 students, a library of 16,500 volumes, a practice court, a legal aid association, and one alumnus admitted to the Texas Bar, but it excludes from its student body members of racial groups which number 85% of the population of the State and which include most of the lawyers, witnesses, jurors, judges, and other officials with whom petitioner would deal as a member of the Texas Bar.

Held: The legal education offered petitioner is not substantially equal to that which he would receive if admitted to the University of Texas Law School, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that he be admitted to the University of Texas Law School. Pp. 631-636.

Reversed.

A Texas trial court found that a newly established state law school for Negroes offered petitioner "privileges, advantages, and opportunities for the study of law substantially equivalent to those offered by the State to white students at the University of Texas," and denied mandamus to compel his admission to the University of Texas Law School. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. 210 S.W.2d 442. The Texas Supreme Court denied writ of error. This Court granted certiorari. 338 U.S. 865. Reversed, p. 636.

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VINSON, J., lead opinion

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

This case and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, post, p. 637, present different aspects of this general question: to what extent does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment limit the power of a state to distinguish between students of different races in professional and graduate education in a state university? Broader issues have been urged for our consideration, but we adhere to the principle of deciding constitutional questions only in the context of the particular case before the Court. We have frequently reiterated that this Court will decide constitutional questions only when necessary to the disposition of the case at hand, and that such decisions will be drawn as narrowly as possible. Rescue Army v. Municipal Court, 331 U.S. 549 (1947), and cases cited therein. Because of this traditional reluctance to extend constitutional interpretations to situations or facts which are not before the Court, much of the excellent research and detailed argument presented in these cases is unnecessary to their disposition.

In the instant case, petitioner filed an application for admission to the University of Texas Law School for the February, 1946, term. His application was rejected solely because he is a Negro.1 Petitioner thereupon brought this suit for mandamus against the appropriate school officials, respondents here, to compel his admission. At that time, there was no law school in Texas which admitted Negroes.

The state trial court recognized that the action of the State in denying petitioner the opportunity to gain

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a legal education while granting it to others deprived him of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The court did not grant the relief requested, however, but continued the case for six months to allow the State to supply substantially equal facilities. At the expiration of the six months, in December, 1946, the court denied the writ on the showing that the authorized university officials had adopted an order calling for the opening of a law school for Negroes the following February. While petitioner's appeal was pending, such a school was made available, but petitioner refused to register therein. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals set aside the trial court's judgment and ordered the cause "remanded generally to the trial court for further proceedings without prejudice to the rights of any party to this suit."

On remand, a hearing was held on the issue of the equality of the educational facilities at the newly established school as compared with the University of Texas Law School. Finding that the new school offered petitioner

privileges, advantages, and opportunities for the study of law substantially equivalent to those offered by the State to white students at the University of Texas,

the trial court denied mandamus. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. 210 S.W.2d 442 (1948). Petitioner's application for a writ of error was denied by the Texas Supreme Court. We granted certiorari, 338 U.S. 865 (1949), because of the manifest importance of the...

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