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May 192008

plessy.jpegYesterday — May 18th — was the anniversary of Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 US Supreme Court case that upheld a Louisiana state law requiring separate railway cars for blacks and whites. The Court found that separate facilities satisfied the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution so long as they were equal. The separate-but-equal doctrine remained good law in the United States until it was finally repudiated by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Educationdecided 58 years later, on May 17, 1954.

In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court held that state laws that established separate public schools for black and whitebrownvboard2.jpeg students violated the Fourteen Amendment by denying black children equal educational opportunities. The case was a judicial watershed that eventually dismantled the legal basis for racial segregation in schools and other public facilities, and laid the foundation for the civil rights movement.

May 022008

150px-carrie_buck.jpgOn May 2, 1927, the US Supreme Court ruled in Buck v. Bell that a Virgnia statute allowing the compulsory sterilization of the so-called feeble minded did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The effect of Buck v. Bell was to legitimize eugenic sterilization laws in the United States as a whole, leading to the forcible sterilization of more than 50,000 people. Buck v. Bell was never overturned by the Supreme Court, but, in 1942 (in the aftermath of WWII), the Supreme Court ruled in Skinner v. Oklahoma that compulsory sterilization could not be sentenced as a punishment for a crime and the practice gradually fell out of use. You can read the whole sad story at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buck_v._Bell.