Persuasive Writing Hall of Fame: Brown v. Board of Education



This brief is brilliant, and perhaps the greatest opening paragraph of a brief ever written. Not a single word is wasted. The writer earns the reader's attention and trust from the very start. 

The writer's conviction in the Plaintiff's position is conveyed so powerfully and so directly the reader can't help but be compelled. The writer asserts himself as a Fourteenth Amendment expert such that the reader is almost grateful for this writer's guidance on the issue. The writer wastes no time getting to his point, and no compunction about making it unwaveringly. In just two sentences, the reader knows the consequences of the Fourteenth Amendment's prohibition on this Defendant.  

The brief quickly moves on to address the anticipated opposition in a calculated and intelligent way. Plaintiff knew Defendant's arguments, and neutralized them almost instantly.

Note how artfully simple and articulate the first sentence in every paragraph is crafted. Each paragraph builds on the ones that came before it to confirm for the reader that there is only one correct conclusion.  

Read for yourself:

Oliver BROWN, Mrs. Richard Lawton, Mrs. Sadie Emmanuel, et al., Appellants, v. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA, SHAWNEE COUNTY, KANSAS, et al.
September, 1952.

Brief for Appellants
Robert L. Carter, Thurgood Marshall, Spottswood W. Robinson, III, Charles S. Scott, Counsel for Appellants.

Summary of Argument

  The Fourteenth Amendment precludes a state from imposing distinctions or classifications based upon race and color alone. The State of Kansas has no power thereunder to use race as a factor in affording educational opportunities to its citizens.

Racial segregation in public schools reduces the benefits of public education to one group solely on the basis of race and color and is a constitutionally proscribed distinction. Even assuming that the segregated schools attended by appellants are not inferior to other elementary schools in Topeka with respect to physical facilities, instruction and courses of study, unconstitutional inequality inheres in the retardation of intellectual development and distortion of personality which Negro children suffer as a result of enforced isolation in school from the general public school population. Such injury and inequality are established as facts on this appeal by the uncontested findings of the District Court.

The District Court reasoned that it could not rectify the inequality that it had found because of this Court's decisions in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U. S. 537 and Gong Lum v. Rice, 275 U. S. 78. This Court has already decided that the Plessy case is not in point. Reliance upon Gong Lum v. Rice is mistaken since the basic assumption of that case is the existence of equality while no such assumption can be made here in the face of the established facts.

Moreover, more recent decisions of this Court, most notably Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U. S. 629 and McLaurin v. Board of Regents, 339 U. S. 637, clearly show that such hurtful consequences of segregated schools as appear here constitute a denial of equal educational opportunities in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Therefore, the court below erred in denying the relief prayed by appellants.

The State of Kansas in affording opportunities for elementary education to its citizens has no power under the Constitution of the United States to impose racial restrictions and distinctions.

 While the State of Kansas has undoubted power to confer benefits or impose disabilities upon selected groups of citizens in the normal execution of governmental functions, it must conform to constitutional standards in the exercise of this authority. These standards may be generally characterized as a requirement that the state's action be reasonable. Reasonableness in a constitutional sense is determined by examining the action of the state to discover whether the distinctions or restrictions in issue are in fact based upon real differences pertinent to a lawful legislative objective. Bain Peanut Co. v. Pinson, 282 U. S. 499; Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U. S. 61; Asbury Hospital v. Cass County, 326 U. S. 207; Metropolitan Casualty Insurance Co. v. Brownell, 294 U. S. 580; Dominion Hotel v. Arizona, 249 U. S. 265.

When the distinctions imposed are based upon race and color alone, the state's action is patently the epitome of that arbitrariness and capriciousness constitutionally impermissive under our system of government. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U. S. 356; Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U. S. 535. A racial criterion is a constitutional irrelevance, Edwards v. California, 314 U. S. 160, 184, and is not saved from condemnation even though dictated by a sincere desire to avoid the possibility of violence or race friction. Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U. S. 60; Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U. S. 373. Only because it was a war measure designed to cope with a grave national emergency was the federal government permitted to level restrictions against persons of enemy descent. Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U. S. 81; Oyama v. California, 332 U. S. 633. This action, “odious,” Hirabayashi v. United States, supra, at page 100, and “suspect,” Korematsu v. United States, 323 U. S. 214, 216, even in times of national peril, must cease as soon as that peril is past. Ex Parte Endo, 323 U. S. 283. 

This Court has found violation of the equal protection clause in racial distinctions and restrictions imposed by the states in selection for jury service, Shepherd v. Florida, 341 U. S. 50; ownership and occupancy of real property, Shelley v. Kramer, 334 U. S. 1; Buchanan v. Warley, supra; gainful employment, Takahashi v. Fish and Game Commission, 334 U. S. 410; voting, Nixon v. Condon, 286 U. S. 73; and graduate and professional education. McLaurin v. Board of Regents, supra; Sweatt v. Painter, supra. The commerce clause in proscribing the imposition of racial distinctions and restrictions in the field of interstate travel is a further limitation of state power in this regard. Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U. S. 373.

Since 1940, in an unbroken line of decisions, this Court has clearly enunciated the doctrine that the state may not validly impose distinctions and restrictions among its citizens based upon race or color alone in each field of governmental activity where question has been raised. Smith v. Allwright, 321 U. S. 649; Sipuel v. Board of Education, 332 U. S. 631; Sweatt v. Painter, supra; Pierre v. Louisiana, 306 U. S. 354; Hill v. Texas, 316 U. S. 400; Morgan v. Virginia, supra; McLaurin v. Board of Regents, supra; Oyama v. California, supra; Takahashi v. Fish and Game Commission, supra; Shelley v. Kraemer, supra; Shepherd v. Florida, supra; Cassell v. Texas, 339 U. S. 282

On the other hand, when the state has sought to protect its citizenry against racial discrimination and prejudice, its action has been consistently upheld, Railway Mail Association v. Corsi, 326 U. S. 88, even though taken in the field of foreign commerce. Bob-Lo Excursion Co. v. Michigan, 333 U. S. 28.

It follows, therefore, that under this doctrine, the State of Kansas which by statutory sanctions seeks to subject appellants, in their pursuit of elementary education, to distinctions based upon race or color alone, is here attempting to exceed the constitutional limits to its authority. For that racial distinction which has been held arbitrary in so many other areas of governmental activity is no more appropriate and can be no more reasonable in public education.