Juris Poiesis, Vol. 20, No 23 (2017)

Tamanho da fonte:  Menor  Médio  Maior

Brown v. Board of Education and the Symbolic Uses of Supreme Court Decisions in American Politics. DOI: 10.5935/2448-0517.20170011

Jeffrey D. Hockett


American legal education is predicated upon the assumption that legal meaning is found within the opinions that accompany judicial rulings.  The history of the United States Supreme Court’s desegregation decision suggests that reality is more complicated than the conventional wisdom suggests.  Indeed, the iconic status of Brown v. Board of Education (1954) was in significant measure a function of scholarly efforts to substitute a rationale – that the ruling was an attack upon white supremacy – for the Court’s controversial social science-based opinion.  Subsequent to Brown, scholars have contested the import of the ruling for constitutional controversies involving race.  Conservative scholars contend that a proper interpretation of this decision is one that is grounded in the color-blindness principle.  By contrast, liberal intellectuals attempt to square Brown with the racial subordination principle – that government may not reinforce the subordinate status of a racial group but may employ racial classifications to aid the victims of discrimination.  Certain considerations, however, reveal that the nature of this dispute is ideological rather than legal.  The group terms in which Brown characterized the psychological harms of segregation contravened the individualistic premises of the color-blindness principle, while the narrow context of the judicial process prevented the justices from acknowledging the complex notion of social reality that informs the racial subordination principle.  The upshot of these considerations is that the meaning of Supreme Court decisions is related to the efforts of scholars and political actors to use those decisions – especially iconic rulings – as powerful symbols in partisan battles.

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