Law and the Great Plains: Essays on the Legal History of the Heartland

By John R. Wunder | Go to book overview

school, used a German Bible as a text for teaching the German language and religion, and he was charged with violating the Nebraska statute. The dispute went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed Meyer's conviction and held that Nebraska's statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The case was a forerunner to the activation of the Fourteenth Amendment for other civil rights issues.

The essay by Michael S. Mayer looks at Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka ( 1954), 11 a seminal decision involving African Americans and the successful integration of public schools. The setting involves many Great Plains participants, such as third grader Linda Brown, who wanted to attend an all-white school in Topeka near her home; 12 Herbert Brownell, native Nebraskan who served as Attorney General for a new Republican administration; and Dwight Eisenhower, favorite son of Kansas and newly elected President of the United States. Mayer chronicles how Eisenhower dealt with this issue, how he tried to weigh his sense of racial justice against his perception of how things had been done in the past and the disruption that the Supreme Court's decisions in Brown and Brown II13 most assuredly would cause.

The last essay in this section by James W. Ely, Jr. tackles an important nineteenth-century Supreme Court decision, Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company v. Minnesota ( 1890). 14 The farmers of many Great Plains states suffered significant economic hardships in the 1870s and 1880s. In addition to the fluctuations in markets and weather conditions, railroads continued to raise rates. The result was a Granger and then a Populist movement of some significance, and many states passed legislation designed to regulate railroad rates. Minnesota did so by setting up a commission to determine the reasonableness of railroad charges. In the inevitable challenge, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Minnesota statute unconstitutional, finding that it violated the railroad's right to economic due process. This case solidified the beginnings of the incorporation of laissez- faire economic policy into the federal law of the land. But as Ely points out, there was room to maneuver, and Minnesota and other states continued to pass legislation within more restricted boundaries.

Meyer v. Nebraska, Brown v. Board of Education, and Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway Company v. Minnesota are just three of the landmark cases that began as Great Plains disputes.


NOTES
1.
Exparte Crow Dog, 109 US 556 ( 1883).
2.
U.S., "An Act making appropriations for the current and contingent expenses of the Indian Department, and for fulfilling treaty stipulations with variousIndian tribes, for the year ending June thirtieth, eighteen hundred and eighty-six, and for other purposes (Major Crimes Act of 1885],"

-31-

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