The Warren Court (1953–69)

Racial Discrimination

What law clerk memo about the Brown case would cause much controversy in later years?

In 1952–53, future U.S. Supreme Court chief justice William Rehnquist served as a law clerk for Justice Robert Jackson. Law clerks often write memos to “their” justice about the cases before the Court. One such memo written by Rehnquist stated that the Brown cases asked the Court to “read its own sociological views into the Constitution.” It concluded: “I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be re-affirmed.” This memo surfaced during Rehnquist’s confirmation hearings to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. Rehnquist explained that he wrote the memo merely as a draft of Justice Jackson’s initial views on the case. Several legal scholars on the Brown case dispute that assertion.


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