The Hughes Court (1930–41)

Race and Equal Protection

In what Hughes Court case did the NAACP win its first major desegregation case in education?

The Hughes Court ruled 7–2 in Missouri Ex Rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938) that the state of Missouri violated the equal-protection rights of Lloyd Gaines, who had applied to enter law school at the all-white University of Missouri. The state had argued that it complied with the constitutional requirement of equal protection by offering to pay Gaines to attend a law school for blacks in a nearby state. The state of Missouri at that time did not have a school for blacks that offered law classes. Gaines, who had obtained his undergraduate degree from the all-black Lincoln University, now sought admission to law school.

Chief Justice Hughes, writing for the Court, determined that the state of Missouri could not evade its legal responsibilities by saying it would eventually offer law schools at the all-black Lincoln University. He wrote that “it cannot be said that a mere declaration of purpose, still unfulfilled, is enough.” Hughes also reasoned that Missouri could not rely on paying Gaines’s tuition at an out-of-state school: “It is an obligation the burden of which cannot be cast by one State upon another.” Legal scholars consider Gaines to be the first major victory of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in its fight to integrate schools.


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