McNeese v. Board of Education
Decided on June 3, 1963; 373 US 668


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed:  Civil rights (race), desegregation, 14th Amendment, schools

B. Legal Question Presented: 

What are the roles of state and federal laws in addressing violations of the 14th Amendment? Does federal law override state law in situations where state laws are insufficient to provide remedies for violations of federal rights?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

The petitioners, black students from an Illinois public school, brought suit in a Federal District Court under the Civil Rights Act to vindicate their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The students alleged that they attended classes in one part of the school, separate and apart from the white students, and were forced to use different entrances and exits. Petitioners alleged that the school was segregated in conflict with the Constitution of the United States, and they sought equitable relief, including registration of plaintiffs in racially integrated schools.

The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that petitioners had not exhausted their administrative remedies under Illinois law, which forbids racial segregation in public schools and prescribes administrative procedures for enforcement of the prohibition. The 7th circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's decision. The US Supreme Court granted Certiorari to the 7th circuit Court of Appeals.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Raymond E. Harth argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief were John W. Rogers, Earl E. Strayhorn, Jack Greenberg, Constance Baker Motley and James M. Nabrit III. Howard Boman and Robert H. Reiter argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents.

C. The Arguments:

ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Alex Elson filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union, as amicus curiae, urging reversal. No amici curiae briefs were filed on behalf of Respondent
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"We have previously indicated that relief under the Civil Rights Act may not be defeated because relief was not first sought under state law which provided a remedy...
 
As the beneficiaries of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments became articulate and the nationalist needs multiplied, the heads of jurisdiction of the District Courts increased, and that increase was a measure of the broadening federal domain in the area of individual rights...

We have... in the present case no underlying issue of state law controlling this litigation. The right alleged is as plainly federal in origin and nature as those vindicated in Brown v. Board of Education... Nor is the federal right in any way entangled in a skein of state law that must be untangled before the federal case can proceed. For petitioners assert that respondents have been and are depriving them of rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. It is immaterial whether respondents' conduct is legal or illegal as a matter of state law.


Moreover, it is by no means clear that Illinois law provides petitioners with an administrative remedy sufficiently adequate to preclude prior resort to a federal court for protection of their federal rights...
 
Respondents say that the Superintendent would not certify a district for state aid if he determined that its sworn statement was false. Apparently no Illinois cases have held that the Superintendent has authority to withhold funds once he has received an affidavit from the district, even if he determines that the affidavit is false. In any event, the withholding of state aid is at best only an indirect sanction of Fourteenth Amendment rights. When federal rights are subject to such tenuous protection, prior resort to a state proceeding is not necessary.

 [T]he withholding of state aid is, at best, only an indirect sanction of Fourteenth Amendment rights. When federal rights are subject to such tenuous protection, prior resort to a state proceeding is not necessary
."

Held: The judgment is reversed.
Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Clark, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Joined majority opinion) 
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Warren, E. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Goldberg, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
III. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus, urged reversal; the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Court in an 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.