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Bolling v. Sharpe

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Significance: The Supreme Court unanimously held that de jure segregation by the federal government violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.


The Bolling v. Sharpe decision dealt with school segregation in Washington, D.C., and was announced the same day as Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to acts of Congress, so the two cases had to be considered separately. Speaking for the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren implicitly used a substantive due process interpretation of the Fifth Amendment. He stated that because segregation in education was not reasonably related to a proper governmental function, it imposed a burden on African American children that constituted “an arbitrary deprivation of their liberty.” Ironically, Warren referred to the Japanese American relocation cases, in which the Court's opinions had recognized an “equal protection component” in the concept of due process. Bolling established that the federal government and the states are usually accountable to the same standards in equal protection cases.