The Brown v. Board of Education I case was decided
unanimously. However, sometimes there are a few justices on the Supreme
Court of the United States who do not agree with the majority decision.
These justices often write dissenting opinions that express how they
disagree with the majority decision.
Though dissents do not have the force of law that majority
opinions do, they are important because they often show the public the
battle between different interpretations of the law. Sometimes, the
dissent in one case becomes the prevailing viewpoint in a future case
that overturns an earlier decision. One such case where a dissent
presaged a future decision occurred in the Plessy and Brown cases.
In the Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) case, Justice Harlan
disagreed with the majority of his colleagues. The majority declared
that it was possible for segregated facilities to be equal, therefore
segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Justice Harlan
wrote a dissent stating that segregation violated the Fourteenth
Amendment because it used the law to sanction inequality among races.
Later, in the Brown v. Board of Education I (1954) case
Chief Justice Earl Warren also declared that separate facilities
violated the Constitution, though he based his argument on slightly
Excerpts from Justice Harlan's dissent and Chief Justice Warren's majority opinion
"Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. . . .
"The destinies of the two races, in this country, are indissolubly
linked together, and the interests of both require that the common
government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted
under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate,
what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between
these races, than state enactments which, in fact, proceed on the ground
that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be
allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as
all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted
—Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)—Justice Harlan's Dissent
Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and
local governments. . . . Such an opportunity, where the state has
undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all
on equal terms. . .
"To separate [children in grade and high schools] from others of
similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a
feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may
affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. . . .
"We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of
"separate but equal" has no place. Separate education facilities are
—Brown v .Board of Education (1954)—Chief Justice Warren's Opinion
The justices clearly share the same opinion of constitutionality of segregation. Can you determine how their opinions differ?