S, Sweatt v. Painter,
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall
Sweatt v. Painter,
339 U.S. 629 (1950), argued 4 Apr. 1950, decided 5 June 1950 by vote of 9 to 0; Vinson for the unanimous Court. Sweatt v. Painter is a landmark decision in the history of United States race relations. Although the ruling was a more narrow holding than the decision of *Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), it nonetheless made clear that the *separate but equal standard established by *Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) was unattainable—at least in state-supported higher education. By implication, the principle was not achievable in any area of public life.
Heman Marion Sweatt was a Houston, Texas, mail carrier intent on becoming a lawyer. Having been denied admission to the University of Texas law school in 1946 because he was an African-American, Sweatt sought the assistance of the *National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and its chief legal counsel, Thurgood *Marshall. An involved legal battle ensued while Texas scrambled to establish an accredited law school for African-Americans within the state, as required by the Supreme Court in *Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938).
Speaking for a unanimous Court, Chief Justice Fred M. *Vinson concluded that a newly created (p. 994) state law school for African-Americans in Texas was in no objective way equal to the University of Texas Law School. Even if it were, Vinson wrote, it would still lack the nonmeasurable elements that made a distinguished law school, among which were faculty reputation, alumni prestige, tradition, and history, a test no recent school could meet. The *Equal Protection Clause of the *Fourteenth Amendment thus required Sweatt’s admission to the previously all-white state university law school. The decision made clear that statutory *segregation was doomed, whether by piecemeal dismemberment or one sweeping judicial thrust.
See also race and racism.
Augustus M. Burns III