The Supreme Court and Social Science

The Supreme Court and Social Science

The Supreme Court and Social Science

The Supreme Court and Social Science

Excerpt

In the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, decided in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools violated the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and was therefore unconstitutional. It was immediately apparent that the import of this case was truly epochal. For the Supreme Court after much hesitation had boldly confronted the endemic disease of racism, giving for the first time emphatic legal expression to the general principle, as stated by Alexander Bickel, "that it is wrong and ultimately evil to classify people invidiously by race." While this principle ostensibly reflects one of the self-evident truths of American political thought, or at least embodies a truth that is not incompatible with a common-sense appreciation of political civility, needless to say, its legacy over the past eighteen years has been largely disputatious. A practical plan for eliminating de facto racial segregation in all public schools has yet to be devised. And although it is not surprising that a legal principle may be formulated more readily and easily than it can be implemented, a curious aspect of the Brown case today is that the wide-ranging controversy sparked by the Court's nomological statement that segregation was harmful still remains to be settled.

The root of this controversy derives from the fact that the Court's finding of segregation's harmfulness was not only a nomological statement but a sociological observation as well. In simple and eloquent language Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote . . .

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