Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada, 305 U.S. 337; 59 S. Ct. 232; 83 L. Ed. 208 (1938)

Facts—The Law School of the University of Missouri refused Lloyd Gaines, an African American, admittance because of his race. He had completed his undergraduate training at Lincoln University, an all-black school. Missouri had separated the white students from the black students all through the school system, but as yet the state had not added a law school to the course of study at Lincoln University. If an African American student wanted to go to law school, Missouri would pay his tuition in an out-of-state school that accepted blacks.

Question—Did a state’s refusal to accept an African American student into an in-state school violate the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Roberts (7–2). The actions of the curators of the university are equivalent to the official actions of the state itself. State policy is that blacks attend Lincoln University while whites attend the University of Missouri. Meanwhile blacks are granted the opportunity of studying, tuition paid, at any nearby state university pending the full development of Lincoln University to the level of the University of Missouri. Although such an arrangement is praiseworthy, the fact that Lincoln University actually does not have a law school at present is a deprivation of equal privileges, since Gaines is denied an advantage extended to white students. The advantages of an alternate program allowing study in a nearby state and the relative excellence of that program with that offered by Missouri are beside the point since the whole consideration is whether or not Missouri had given equal privileges to both white and black students within the state. This has not been done; therefore the state statute violates the Fourteenth Amendment by discrimination.

As an individual Gaines was entitled to the equal protection of the laws, and the state was bound to furnish him within its borders facilities for a legal education substantially equal to those that the state afforded for persons of the white race.

J. McReynolds argued in dissent for deference to state decisions regarding education while pointing to the special difficulties in accommodating Gaines.

Note—This was one of the early cases in which the Supreme Court began to stress the “equal” component of the “separate but equal” standard that it had articulated in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).

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