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During the past year, dozens of American law schools commemorated the
fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.[1] The attention was
appropriate because Brown is one of the Supreme Court’s seminal decisions.
By all appearances, the fiftieth anniversary of Brown attracted much more
attention than did, say, the 200th anniversary of Marbury v. Madison [2] in 2003
or the centennial of Lochner v. New York [3] this year. Brown’s unique
significance resides in part in the fact that it changed America’s constitutional norm regarding race, our most embarrassing and vexing problem. In effectively overturning the doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson [4] that separate but equal was consistent with the Equal Protection Clause, Brown rejected apartheid as a constitutional principle to organize American society. It went “where no court had ever gone before: to dismantle an entrenched social order.”[5] As such it has become “a beloved legal and political icon.”[6]