The command of the Fourteenth Amendment is that no "state" shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. A State acts by its legislative, its executive, or its judicial authorities. It can act in no other way. The prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment extend to all action of a state denying equal protection of the laws; whatever the agency of the state taking the action, or whatever the guise in which it is taken.
School authorities asked a district court to postpone their program for desegregation mandated by the Brown v. Board of Education decision because of great difficulties in implementing the program. School authorities claimed that while they made good faith efforts to implement the desegregation program, the Governor and Legislature of Arkansas resisted the program and enacted laws and took other actions to make implementation impossible. The district court granted the requested relief but on appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed. The case was elevated to the Supreme Court of the United States on certiorari.
Should the program for desegregation be postponed?
The Court upheld the appellate decision requiring the desegregation program to proceed. The prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment extended to all action of a state denying equal protection of the laws; whatever the agency of the state taking the action, or whatever the guise in which it was taken. While one might sympathize with the position of the school authorities, they were in fact agents of the State of Arkansas. Moreover, the constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color could neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers, nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation. Finally, the Court noted that the Constitution was the supreme law of the land. No state legislator or executive or judicial officer could war against the Constitution without violating his undertaking to support it.