May 23, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Brown v. Board warning

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas during the formal group photograph at the Supreme Court in Washing

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas on Oct. 7. Photo: Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas went after the 70-year-old Brown v. Board of Education ruling today, suggesting the court overreached its authority in the landmark decision that banned separating schoolchildren by race.

Why it matters: American public schools are growing more separate and unequal even though the country is more racially and ethnically diverse than ever, according to an Axios review published last week.

  • The 9-0 Brown decision declared the "separate but equal" doctrine unconstitutional and helped usher in the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Thomas attacked the Brown decision in a concurrence opinion today that allowed South Carolina to keep using a congressional map that critics say discriminated against Black voters.

Zoom in: The court "took a boundless view of equitable remedies" in the Brown ruling, wrote Thomas, who in 1991 replaced Thurgood Marshall — the first Black Supreme Court Justice and the lead lawyer in the Brown case.

  • Those remedies came through "extravagant uses of judicial power" to end racial segregation in the 1950s and 60s, Thomas wrote.
  • Federal courts have limited power to grant equitable relief, "not the flexible power to invent whatever new remedies may seem useful at the time," he said, justifying his opinion to keep a predominantly white congressional district in South Carolina.

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