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SWEATT v. PAINTER ET AL.
(339 U.S. 629 (1949))
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF TEXAS.
No. 44. Argued April 4, 1950.-Decided June 5, 1950.
Petitioner was denied admission to the state-supported University of Texas Law School, solely because he is a Negro and state law forbids the admission of Negroes to that Law School. He was offered, but he refused, enrollment in a separate law school newly established by the State for Negroes. The University of Texas Law School has 16 full-time and three part-time professors, 850 students, a library of 65,000 volumes, a law review, moot court facilities, scholarship funds, an Order of the Coif affiliation, many distinguished alumni, and much tradition and prestige. The separate law school for Negroes has five full-time professors, 23 students, a library of 16,500 volumes, a practice court, a legal aid association and one alumnus admitted to the Texas Bar; but it excludes from its student body members of racial groups which number 85% of the population of the State and which include most of the lawyers, witnesses, jurors, judges, and other officials with whom petitioner would deal as a member of the Texas Bar. Held: The legal education offered petitioner is not substantially equal to that which he would receive if admitted to the University of Texas Law School; and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that he be admitted to the University of Texas Law School. Pp. 631-636.
A Texas trial court found that a newly-established state law school for Negroes offered petitioner "privileges, advantages, and opportunities for the study of law substantially equivalent to those offered by the State to white students at the University of Texas" and denied mandamus to compel his admission to the University of Texas Law School. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. 210 S. W. 2d 442. The Texas Supreme Court denied writ of error. This Court granted certiorari. 338 U. S. 865. Reversed, p. 636.
W. J. Durham and Thurgood Marshall argued the cause for petitioner. With them on the brief were Robert L. Carter, William R. Ming, Jr., James M. Nabrit and Franklin H. Williams.
Price Daniel, Attorney General of Texas, and Joe R. Greenhill, First Assistant Attorney General, argued the cause for respondents. With them on the brief was E. Jacobson, Assistant Attorney General.
Briefs of amici curiae, supporting petitioner, were filed by Solicitor General Perlman and Philip Elman for the United States; Paul G. Annes for the American Federation of Teachers; Thomas I. Emerson, Erwin N. Griswold, Robert Hale, Harold Havighurst and Edward Levi for the Committee of Law Teachers Against Segregation in Legal Education; Phineas Indritz for the American Veterans Committee, Inc.; and Marcus Cohn and Jacob Grumet for the American Jewish Committee et al.
An amici curiae brief in support of respondents was filed on behalf of the States of Arkansas, by Ike Murray, Attorney General; Florida, by Richard W. Ervin, Attorney General, and Frank J. Heintz, Assistant Attorney General; Georgia, by Eugene Cook, Attorney General, and M. H. Blackshear, Jr., Assistant Attorney General; Kentucky, by A. E. Funk, Attorney General, and M. B. Holifield, Assistant Attorney General; Louisiana, by Bolivar E. Kemp, Jr., Attorney General; Mississippi, by Greek L. Rice, Attorney General, and George H. Ethridge, Acting Attorney General; North Carolina, by Harry McMullan, Attorney General, and Ralph Moody, Assistant Attorney General; Oklahoma, by Mac Q. Williamson, Attorney General; South Carolina, by John M. Daniel, Attorney General; Tennessee, by Roy H. Beeler, Attorney General, and William F. Barry, Solicitor General; and Virginia, by J. Lindsay Almond, Jr., Attorney General, and Walter E. Rogers, Assistant Attorney General.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case and McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, post, p. 637, present different aspects of this general question: To what extent does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment limit the power of a state to distinguish between students of different races in professional and graduate education in a state university? Broader issues have been urged for our consideration, but we adhere to the principle of deciding constitutional questions only in the context of the particular case before the Court. We have frequently reiterated that this Court will decide constitutional questions only when necessary to the disposition of the case at hand, and that such decisions will be drawn as narrowly as possible. Rescue Army v. Municipal Court, 331 U. S. 549 (1947), and cases cited therein. Because of this traditional reluctance to extend constitutional interpretations to situations or facts which are not before the Court, much of the excellent research and detailed argument presented in these cases is unnecessary to their disposition.
In the instant case, petitioner filed an application for admission to the University of Texas Law School for the February, 1946 term. His application was rejected solely because he is a Negro.' Petitioner thereupon brought this suit for mandamus against the appropriate school officials, respondents here, to compel his admission. At that time, there was no law school in Texas which admitted Negroes.
The state trial court recognized that the action of the State in denying petitioner the opportunity to gain
It appears that the University has been restricted to white students, in accordance with the State law. See Tex. Const., Art. VII, §§ 7, 14; Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. (Vernon, 1925), Arts. 2643b (Supp. 1949), 2719, 2900.
a legal education while granting it to others deprived him of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. The court did not grant the relief requested, however, but continued the case for six months to allow the State to supply substantially equal facilities. At the expiration of the six months, in December, 1946, the court denied the writ on the showing that the authorized university officials had adopted an order calling for the opening of a law school for Negroes the following February. While petitioner's appeal was pending, such a school was made available, but petitioner refused to register therein. The Texas Court of Civil Appeals set aside the trial court's judgment and ordered the cause "remanded generally to the trial court for further proceedings without prejudice to the rights of any party to this suit."
On remand, a hearing was held on the issue of the equality of the educational facilities at the newly established school as compared with the University of Texas Law School. Finding that the new school offered petitioner "privileges, advantages, and opportunities for the study of law substantially equivalent to those offered by the State to white students at the University of Texas," the trial court denied mandamus. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. 210 S. W. 2d 442 (1948). Petitioner's application for a writ of error was denied by the Texas Supreme Court. We granted certiorari, 338 U. S. 865 (1949), because of the manifest importance of the constitutional issues involved.
The University of Texas Law School, from which petitioner was excluded, was staffed by a faculty of sixteen full-time and three part-time professors, some of whom are nationally recognized authorities in their field. Its student body numbered 850. The library contained over 65,000 volumes. Among the other facilities available to the students were a law review, moot court facilities,
scholarship funds, and Order of the Coif affiliation. The school's alumni occupy the most distinguished positions in the private practice of the law and in the public life of the State. It may properly be considered one of the nation's ranking law schools.
The law school for Negroes which was to have opened in February, 1947, would have had no independent faculty or library. The teaching was to be carried on by four members of the University of Texas Law School faculty, who were to maintain their offices at the University of Texas while teaching at both institutions. Few of the 10,000 volumes ordered for the library had arrived; 2 nor was there any full-time librarian. The school lacked accreditation.
Since the trial of this case, respondents report the opening of a law school at the Texas State University for Negroes. It is apparently on the road to full accreditation. It has a faculty of five full-time professors; a student body of 23; a library of some 16,500 volumes serviced by a full-time staff; a practice court and legal aid association; and one alumnus who has become a member of the Texas Bar.
Whether the University of Texas Law School is compared with the original or the new law school for Negroes, we cannot find substantial equality in the educational opportunities offered white and Negro law students by the State. In terms of number of the faculty, variety of courses and opportunity for specialization, size of the student body, scope of the library, availability of law
2 "Students of the interim School of Law of the Texas State University for Negroes [located in Austin, whereas the permanent School was to be located at Houston] shall have use of the State Law Library in the Capitol Building. . . Tex. Laws 1947, c. 29, § 11, Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. (Vernon, 1949 Supp.), note to Art. 2643b. It is not clear that this privilege was anything more than was extended to all citizens of the State.