Notes, William O. Douglas to Earl Warren, 11 May 1954; Harold H. Burton to Warren, 17 May 1954; and Felix Frankfurter to Warren, 17 May 1954, concerning Chief Justice Warren's decision in Brown v. Board of Education
Reproduction number: A79 (color slide)
The justices of the United States Supreme Court communicate with one another about individual cases throughout the judicial process, from the initial decision about accepting jurisdiction to the final judgment on the merits. This collection of notes to Earl Warren (1891-1974) from three of his colleagues, however, was most unusual. In paying tribute to Chief Justice Warren, justices Harold H. Burton (1888-1964), Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), and William O. Douglas (1898-1980) underscored their sense of gratitude, delight, and relief that the chief had led the brethren to a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954). It was widely believed by informed observers that the Brown case, which held that racial segregation in the public schools was unconstitutional, would be decided by a badly divided Court. The justices had been split on many other controversial issues, and even an optimistic Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), who argued the case for the opponents of segregation, thought that several justices would dissent. Chief Justice Warren carefully structured a six-month debate about the case within the Court, adopting the important recommendation of Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) to delay taking a formal vote until the issues were thoroughly explored. During the course of many meetings, Justice Frankfurter was particularly resourceful about identifying a number of areas upon which all could agree. The Court would continue to issue unanimous decisions in cases involving racial segregation for many years, which lent an enhanced legitimacy to a major development in constitutional law.