Desegregation from Brown to Alexander: An Exploration of Supreme Court Strategies

By Stephen L. Wasby; Anthony A. D'Amato et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 9

"Freedom-of-Choice" and the End of "Deliberate Speed"

AFTER the Supreme Court's 1964 ruling in the Prince Edward County school litigation its attention had turned to other areas of segregation and discrimination such as protest, voting, and housing. One of the reasons for the Court's change in direction was that the federal executive branch had entered into the desegregation area with the development of the HEW Desegregation Guidelines. As the guidelines became established, some new school desegregation activity developed in the lower courts because of the guidelines' basis in judicially developed standards. The lower federal courts in the South began to accept the guidelines, thus tying litigation and administration more closely together. And in the second half of the 1960s, school desegregation cases with considerable potential impact began working their way up to the Supreme Court, engaging the Court's attention once again more than a dozen years after Brown I. That the Court's inaction in the school desegregation area had begun to produce considerable criticism is evident. Clearly the Court had not put an end to the delay it had in effect encouraged in Brown II. But the criticism in the late 1960s cut deeper than the Court's earlier opinions.

The most forcefully stated negative view of the Court's work was that of NAACP attorney Lewis Steel in a 1968 article entitled "Nine Men in Black Who Think White."1 Steel grudgingly gave the Court some limited credit: the Warren Court had "eliminated from the law books some of [the Supreme Court's] more atrocious decisions." However, "never has it indicated that it is committed to a society based upon principles of absolute equality." The "symbols of racism," not the "ingrained practices" of white supremacy, had been eliminated. Steel contended the latter were either condoned or overlooked by the Court. What was worse, the Court's decisions had led people, particularly "a confused, miseducated and prejudiced white public," to believe that blacks had been given full rights. What particularly bothered Steel was that the Court had catered to public

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