Status: Complete



Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958)

Counsel for petitioners: Richard Butler, Little Rock, Arkansas
Counsel for respondents: Thurgood Marshall, New York, New York
Counsel for the United States, as amicus curiae: Solicitor General J. Lee Rankin, Washington, D.C.

Chief Justice Earl Warren: The Court is now reconvened in special term to consider an application by the petitioners for a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in the case of William Cooper, et al., versus John Aaron, et. al., Number 1 Miscellaneous.

Narrator: It's September 11, 1958. The Court's regular term begins in October. But Chief Justice Earl Warren has called a special session for argument of this case. Only three times before have the justices met during their recess. But few cases have raised issues of such legal and political importance.

This case began with the Court's unanimous decision in 1954 in Brown versus Board of Education. Racial segregation in public schools violated the Constitution's equal protection clause. The Court ruled the next year that integration should proceed, in their words, with "all deliberate speed." Many southern officials viewed this phrase as an invitation for foot-dragging and delay. The school board in Little Rock, Arkansas, prepared a plan that would begin in 1957 with token integration of the city's elite school, Central High. The plan wouldn't end segregation in Little Rock schools for another ten years.

Black parents refused to wait that long. They asked for legal help from the NAACP -- The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Their lawyers asked federal judges to speed up integration in Little Rock. All they got was an order to admit nine black students to Central High. Even this limited victory enraged racial bigots, who circled the school on opening day with howling mobs. Arkansas governor Orval Faubus ordered National Guard troops to keep the black kids out of Central High. When they approached the school, soldiers forced them back with bayonets.

After three weeks of violence, President Dwight Eisenhower finally ended the insurrection. He sent Army troops to escort the black students into Central High. For the rest of the school year, they fought harassment every day, in school corridors and on sidewalks. The school board continued to fight the Supreme Court. Federal judge Harry Lemley agreed to delay further integration for more than two years. An appellate court reversed his order, and the Supreme Court accepted the board's appeal.

The Constitution proclaims that its provisions are "the supreme law of the

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