Cooper v. Aaron 1958

Decision Date29 September 1958
Docket NumberNo. 1,1
Citation78 S.Ct. 1401,3 L.Ed.2d 19,3 L.Ed.2d 5,358 U.S. 1
PartiesWilliam G. COOPER et al., Members of the Board of Directors of the Little Rock, Arkansas Independent School District, and Virgil T. Blossom, Superintendent of Schools, Petitioners, v. John AARON et al. August Special Term, 1958
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from Pages 1-3 intentionally left blank]


Note: The per curiam opinion announced on September 12, 1958, and printed in a footnote, post, p. 5, applies not only to this case but also to No. 1, Misc., August Special Term, 1958, Aaron et al. v. Cooper et al., on application for vacation of order of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit staying issuance of its mandate, for stay of order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and for such other orders as petitions may be entitled to, argued August 28, 1958.

Mr. Richard C. Butler, Little Rock, Ark., for petitioners.

Mr. Thurgood Marshall, New York City, for respondents.

Mr. J. Lee Rankin, Sol. Gen., Washington, D. C., as amicus curiae by invitation of the Court.

Opinion of the Court by The CHIEF JUSTICE, Mr. Justice BLACK, Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, Mr. Justice BURTON, Mr. Justice CLARK, Mr. Justice HARLAN, Mr. Justice BRENNAN, and Mr. Justice WHITTAKER.

As this case reaches us it raises questions of the highest importance to the maintenance of our federal system of government. It necessarily involves a claim by the Governor and Legislature of a State that there is no duty on state officials to obey federal court orders resting on this Court's considered interpretation of the United States Constitution. Specifically it involves actions by the Governor and Legislature of Arkansas upon the premise that they are not bound by our holding in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873. That holding was that the Fourteenth Amendment forbids States to use their governmental powers to bar children on racial grounds from attending schools where there is state participation through any arrangement, management, funds or property. We are urged to uphold a suspension of the Little Rock School Board's plan to do away with segregated public schools in Little Rock until state laws and efforts to upset and nullify our holding in Brown v. Board of Education have been further challenged and tested in the courts. We reject these contentions.

The case was argued before us on September 11, 1958. On the following day we unanimously affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, 257 F.2d 33, which had reversed a judgment of the District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, 163 F.Supp. 13. The District Court had granted the application of the petitioners, the Little Rock School Board and School Superintendent, to suspend for two and one-half years the operation of the School Board's court-approved desegregation program. In order that the School Board might know, without doubt, its duty in this regard before the opening of school, which had been set for the following Monday, September 15, 1958, we immediately issued the judgment, reserving the expression of our supporting views to a later date.* This opinion of all of the members of the Court embodies those views.

The following are the facts and circumstances so far as necessary to show how the legal questions are presented.

On May 17, 1954, this Court decided that enforced racial segregation in the public schools of a State is a denial of the equal protection of the laws enjoined by the Fourteenth Amendment. Brown v. Board of Education 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686. The Court postponed, pending further argument, formulation of a decree to effectuate this decision. That decree was rendered May 31, 1955. Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, 75 S.Ct. 753, 756. In the formulation of that decree the Court recognized that good faith compliance with the principles declared in Brown might in some situations 'call for elimination of a variety of obstacles in making the transition to school systems operated in accordance with the constitutional principles set forth in our May 17, 1954, decision.' 349 U.S. at page 300, 75 S.Ct. at page 756. The Court went on to state:

'Courts of equity may properly take into account the public interest in the elimination of such obstacles in a systematic and effective manner. But it should go without saying that the vitality of these constitutional principles cannot be allowed to yield simply because of disagreement with them.

'While giving weight to these public and private considerations, the courts will require that the defendants make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance with our May 17, 1954, ruling. Once such a start has been made, the courts may find that additional time is necessary to carry out the ruling in an effective manner. The burden rests upon the defendants to establish that such time is necessary in the public interest and is consistent with good faith compliance at the earliest practicable date. To that end, the courts may consider problems related to administration, arising from the physical condition of the school plant, the school transportation system, personnel, revision of school districts and attendance areas into compact units to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis, and revision of local laws and regulations which may be necessary in solving the foregoing problems.' 349 U.S. at pages 300-301, 75 S.Ct. at page 756.

Under such circumstances, the District Courts were directed to require 'a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance,' and to take such action as was necessary to bring about the end of racial segregation in the public schools 'with all deliberate speed.' Ibid. Of course, in many locations, obedience to the duty of desegregation would require the immediate general admission of Negro children, otherwise qualified as students for their appropriate classes, at particular schools. On the other hand, a District Court, after analysis of the relevant factors (which, of course, excludes hostility to racial desegregation), might conclude that justification existed for not requiring the present nonsegregated admission of all qualified Negro children. In such circumstances, however, the Court should scrutinize the program of the school authorities to make sure that they had developed arrangements pointed toward the earliest practicable completion of desegregation, and had taken appropriate steps to put their program into effective operation. It was made plain that delay in any guise in order to deny the constitutional rights of Negro children could not be countenanced, and that only a prompt start, diligently and earnestly pursued, to eliminate racial segregation from the public schools could constitute good faith compliance. State authorities were thus duty bound to devote every effort toward initiating desegregation and bringing about the elimination of racial discrimination in the public school system.

On May 20, 1954, three days after the first Brown opinion, the Little Rock District School Board adopted, and on May 23, 1954, made public, a statement of policy entitled 'Supreme Court Decision—Segregation in Public Schools.' In this statement the Board recognized that

'It is our responsibility to comply with Federal Constitutional Requirements and we intend to do so when the Supreme Court of the United States outlines the method to be followed.'

Thereafter the Board undertook studies of the administrative problems confronting the transition to a desegregated public school system at Little Rock. It instructed the Superintendent of Schools to prepare a plan for desegregation, and approved such a plan on May 24, 1955, seven days before the second Brown opinion. The plan provided for desegregation at the senior high school level (grades 10 through 12) as the first stage. Desegregation at the junior high and elementary levels was to follow. It was contemplated that desegregation at the high school level would commence in the fall of 1957, and the expectation was that complete desegregation of the school system would be accomplished by 1963. Following the adoption of this plan, the Superintendent of Schools discussed it with a large number of citizen groups in the city. As a result of these discussions, the Board reached the conclusion that 'a large majority of the residents' of Little Rock were of 'the belief * * * that the Plan, although objectionable in principle,' from the point of view of those supporting segregated schools, 'was still the best for the interests of all pupils in the District.'

Upon challenge by a group of Negro plaintiffs desiring more rapid completion of the desegregation process, the District Court upheld the School Board's plan, Aaron v. Cooper, 143 F.Supp. 855. The Court of Appeals affirmed, 8 Cir., 243 F.2d 361. Review of that judgment was not sought here.

While the School Board was thus going forward with its preparation for desegregating the Little Rock school system, other state authorities, in contrast, were actively pursuing a program designed to perpetuate in Arkansas the system of racial segregation which this Court had held violated the Fourteenth Amendment. First came, in November 1956, an amendment to the State Constitution flatly commanding the Arkansas General Assembly to oppose 'in every Constitutional manner the Un-consti- tutional desegregation decisions of May 17, 1954 and May 31, 1955 of the United States Supreme Court,' Ark.Const.Amend. 44, and, through the initiative, a pupil assignment law, Ark.Stats. §§ 80-1519 to 80-1524. Pursuant to this state constitutional command, a law relieving school children from compulsory attendance at racially mixed schools, Ark.Stats. § 80-1525, and a law establishing a State Sovereignty Commission, Ark.Stats. §§ 6-801 to 6-824, were...

To continue reading

Request your trial
714 cases
  • Evans v. Buchanan
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Delaware
    • March 27, 1975
    ...classification. See, Monroe v. Board of Commissioners, 391 U.S. 450, 88 S.Ct. 1700, 20 L.Ed.2d 733 (1968); Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 78 S.Ct. 1401, 3 L.Ed.2d 5, 19 (1958); Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60, 80-81, 38 S.Ct. 16, 62 L.Ed. 149 32 There are no geographic barriers separating Wil......
  • Moody v. Flowers
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama
    • June 14, 1966
    ...their local agencies or appendages without recognizing and complying with basic constitutional principles. In Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 78 S.Ct. 1401, 3 L.Ed.2d 5 (1958), the Court The prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment extend to all action of the State denying equal protection of ......
  • Spangler v. Pasadena City Board of Education, Civ. No. 68-1438-R.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Central District of California
    • March 12, 1970
    ...of racial segregation in order to accommodate community sentiment or the wishes of a majority of voters. Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 12-13, 15-16, 78 S.Ct. 1401, 3 L.Ed.2d 5 (1958); Lucas v. Forty-Fourth General Assembly of State of Colorado, 377 U.S. 713, 736-737, 84 S.Ct. 1459, 12 L.Ed.2......
  • Valdivia v. Schwarzenegger
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of California
    • March 26, 2009
    ...underlying constitutional violations were at issue and where the federal court's order was a consent decree. In Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 78 S.Ct. 1401, 3 L.Ed.2d 5 (1958), the Court explained this principle when confronted with the state of Arkansas' statutes and state constitutional am......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
64 books & journal articles
  • Mapped out of local democracy.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 62 No. 4, April - April 2010
    • April 1, 2010
    ...local officials stood in the shoes of state officials, equally accountable to individuals' constitutional rights. See also Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 16-17 (1958) ("[F]rom the point of view of the Fourteenth Amendment, [local officials] stand in this litigation as the agents of the State.......
  • Second-Class' Rhetoric, Ideology, and Doctrinal Change
    • United States
    • Georgetown Law Journal No. 110-3, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...Board of Education ); David B. Kopel, Does the Second Amendment Protect Firearms Commerce? , 127 HARV. L. REV. F. 230 (2014) (same). 115. 358 U.S. 1 (1958). 116. 117. See Heston, supra note 97. 118. 135 S. Ct. 2584, 2640 (2015). See, e.g. , John Yoo & James C. Phillips, The Second(-Class) A......
  • The Ideology of Supreme Court Opinions and Citations
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review No. 97-3, March 2012
    • March 1, 2012
    ...357 U.S. 116 (1958) Wiener v. United States, 357 U.S. 349 (1958) NAACP v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449 (1958) Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958) Lassiter v. Northampton Cnty. Bd. of Elections, 360 U.S. 45 (1959) Barenblatt v. United States, 360 U.S. 109 (1959) Elkins v. United St......
  • Gutting Bivens: How the Supreme Court Shielded Federal Officials from Constitutional Litigation.
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 85 No. 4, September 2020
    • September 22, 2020
    ...ERWIN CHEMERINSKY, WE THE PEOPLE: A PROGRESSIVE READING OF THE CONSTITUTION FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY 22 (2018). (15.) Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 18 (16.) 1 ANNALS OF CONG. 439 (1789). (17.) 1 ANNALS OF CONG. 439 (1789) (speech of James Madison), reprinted in 12 W. Hutchinson, W. Rache......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT