Mo. ex rel. Gaines v. Canada

305 U.S. 337, 59 S. Ct. 232 (1938)



The equal protection of the laws is a pledge of the protection of equal laws. Manifestly, the obligation of the State to give the protection of equal laws can be performed only where its laws operate, that is, within its own jurisdiction. It is there that the equality of legal right must be maintained. That obligation is imposed by the United States Constitution upon the states severally as governmental entities -- each responsible for its own laws establishing the rights and duties of persons within its borders. It is an obligation the burden of which cannot be cast by one state upon another, and no state can be excused from performance by what another state may do or fail to do. That separate responsibility of each state within its own sphere is of the essence of statehood maintained under the dual system of government. It is impossible to conclude that what otherwise would be an unconstitutional discrimination, with respect to the legal right to the enjoyment of opportunities within the State, can be justified by requiring resort to opportunities elsewhere. That resort may mitigate the inconvenience of the discrimination but cannot serve to validate it.


A black student filed suit for the denial of admittance to a law school. The court determined that the student was not denied equal protection of the law. Student filed a mandamus action to compel the law school to admit him. The student contended that the discrimination constituted a denial of his constitutional rights. The student insisted that there were special advantages for a person intending to practice law in Missouri to attend the university to which he had applied. 


Is it constitutional to reject a black student from the admission law school?




The court determined that the denial of the right for black students to pursue a legal education in Missouri was a denial of a legal right to the enjoyment of a privilege which the State had set up. The court further concluded that the payment of tuition fees in another State did not remove the discrimination. The court determined that the student was entitled to the equal protection of the laws and that the state was bound to furnish it for him within the borders of the state. The court concluded that petitioner was entitled to be admitted to the school of law at the state university in the absence of other and proper provision for his legal training. The court remanded and reversed the decision of the lower court.

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