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U.S. Supreme Court

Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337 (1938)

Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada

No. 57

Argued November 9, 1938

Decided December 12, 1938

305 U.S. 337


1. The State of Missouri provides separate schools and universities for whites and negroes. At the state university, attended by whites, there is a course in law; at the Lincoln University, attended by negroes, there is as yet none, but it is the duty of the curators of that institution to establish one there whenever in their opinion this shall be necessary and practicable, and pending such development, they are authorized to arrange for legal education of Missouri negroes, and to pay the tuition charges therefor, at law schools in adjacent States where negroes are accepted and where the training is equal to that obtainable at the Missouri State University. Pursuant to the State's policy of separating the races in its educational institutions, the curators of the state university refused to admit a negro as a student in the law school there because of his race; whereupon he sought a mandamus, in the state courts, which was denied.


(1) That inasmuch as the curators of the state university represented the State, in carrying out its policy, their action in denying the negro admission to the law school was state action within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 305 U. S. 343.

(2) The action of the State in furnishing legal education within the State to whites while not furnishing legal education within the State to negroes was a discrimination repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 305 U. S. 344.

If a State furnishes higher education to white residents, it is bound to furnish substantially equal advantages to negro residents, though not necessarily in the same schools.

(3) The unconstitutional discrimination is not avoided by the purpose of the State to establish a law school for negroes whenever necessary and practicable in the opinion of the curators of the University provided for negroes. P. 305 U. S. 346.

(4) Nor are the requirements of the equal protection clause satisfied by the opportunities afforded by Missouri to its negro citizens for legal education in other States. P. 305 U. S. 348.

The basic consideration here is not as to what sort of opportunities other States provide, or whether they are as good as those chanrobles.com-red

Page 305 U. S. 338

in Missouri, but as to what opportunities Missouri itself furnishes to white students and denies to negroes solely upon the ground of color. The admissibility of laws separating the races in the enjoyment of privileges afforded by the State rests wholly upon the equality of the privileges which the laws give to the separated groups within the State. By the operation of the laws of Missouri, a privilege has been created for white law students which is denied to negroes by reason of their race. The white resident is afforded legal education within the State; the negro resident having the same qualifications is refused it there, and must go outside the State to obtain it. That is a denial of the equality of legal right to the enjoyment of the privilege which the State has set up, and the provision for the payment of tuition fees in another State does not remove the discrimination. P. 305 U. S. 348.

(5) The obligation of the State to give the protection of equal laws can be performed only where its laws operate, that is, within its own jurisdiction. It is there that the equality of legal right must be maintained. That obligation is imposed by the Constitution upon the States severally as governmental entities each responsible for its own laws establishing the rights and duties of persons within its borders. P. 305 U. S. 350.

(6) The fact that there is but a limited demand in Missouri for the legal education of negroes does not excuse the discrimination in favor of whites. P. 305 U. S. 350.

(7) Inasmuch as the discrimination may last indefinitely -- so long as the curators find it unnecessary and impracticable to provide facilities for the legal education of negroes within the State, the alternative of attendance at law schools in other States being provided meanwhile -- it cannot be excused as a temporary discrimination. P. 305 U. S. 351.

2. The state court decided this case upon the merits of the federal question, and not upon the propriety of remedy by mandamus. P. 305 U. S. 352.

342 Mo. 121; 113 S.W.2d 783, reversed.

CERTIORARI, post, p. 580, to review a judgment affirming denial of a writ of mandamus. chanrobles.com-red

Page 305 U. S. 342


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