For almost three generations, this Court has defaulted in its duty to enforce the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment with the full force and vigor that it justly deserves. In declaring racial segregation in public education unconstitutional, we take a major stride on the road toward rectifying that default. As the Court's opinion today reminds us, the central purpose of the Civil War Amendments was “the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom and the protection of the newly made freeman and citizen from the oppressions of those who had formerly exercised unlimited dominion over them.” Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36, 71 (1873). The words of the Fourteenth Amendment in particular, we have held, contain “a necessary implication of a positive immunity, or right, most valuable to the colored race,—the right to exemption from unfriendly legislation against them distinctively as colored,—exemption from legal discriminations, implying inferiority in civil society, lessening the security of their enjoyment of the rights which others enjoy, and discriminations which are steps towards reducing them to the condition of a subject race.” Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 307–08 (1880).
Yet, this Court, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), created out of whole cloth the separate-but-equal doctrine, contending that it was consonant with the core purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause. Pursuant to that doctrine, the Court in Plessy upheld state laws requiring racial segregation in the provision of railroad transportation, the question specifically at issue there. The Plessy Court relied heavily, however, upon the existence of state-imposed racial segregation in public schools in the North as evidence that such arrangements did “not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other.” 163 U.S. at 544. The flaws in Plessy were many, as the opinions of several of my fellow Justices make clear. Within relatively lit-