The Vinson Court (1946–53)


Did the Vinson Court address the issue of segregation in public schools?

Yes, the Vinson Court decided several cases involving segregation at schools of higher education. The Court ruled in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma (1948) that the state must admit African American Ada Lois Sipuel to the state’s law school or create a substantially equal educational opportunity for blacks. “The State must provide it for her in conformity with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and provide it as soon as it does for applicants of any other group,” the Court wrote in a per curiam opinion decided only four days after oral argument.

Two years later, the Court decided two cases on the same day—June 5, 1950—involving African American graduate students at all-white institutions.

In Sweatt v. Painter (1950), the Vinson Court ruled that Texas must admit African American student Herman Sweatt into the University of Texas Law School. The state had contended that it did not have to admit Sweatt, because he could attend a newly created school for blacks. However, this new school had far fewer resources and would provide a lower degree of education than the University of Texas Law School. The Vinson Court ruled that Texas failed to provide substantially equal schools under the separate but equal doctrine. The Court concluded that “the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that petitioner be admitted to the University of Texas Law School.”

In McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, the Court ruled that the University of Oklahoma also violated the Equal Protection Clause in its treatment of George W. McLaurin, an African American who was pursing his doctorate in education. The university had admitted McLaurin because there was no comparable school for black students, but they had imposed special conditions on him. He had to sit in a designated area of the classroom separated by a railing with a sign “Reserved for Colored.” He had to eat at a certain table in the cafeteria apart from white students. He also had to use a specific place in the school library. “We conclude that the conditions under which this appellant [McLaurin] is required to receive his education deprive him of his personal and present right to the equal protection of the laws,” the Court wrote.

Famed civil rights attorney and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall successfully argued on behalf of his clients in both Sipuel v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma and Sweatt v. Painter (1950).


This is a web preview of the "The Handy Supreme Court Answer Book" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App