Bolling v. Sharpe,
347 U.S. 497 (1954)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497 (1954)

Bolling v. Sharpe

No. 8

Argued December 10-11, 1952

Reargued December 9, 1953

Decided May 17, 1954

347 U.S. 497


Racial segregation in the public schools of the District of Columbia is a denial to Negro children of the due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 347 U. S. 498-500.

(a) Though the Fifth Amendment does not contain an equal protection clause, as does the Fourteenth Amendment, which applies only to the States, the concepts of equal protection and due process are not mutually exclusive. P. 347 U. S. 499.

(b) Discrimination may be so unjustifiable as to be violative of due process. P. 347 U. S. 499.

(c) Segregation in public education is not reasonably related to any proper governmental objective, and thus it imposes on Negro children of the District of Columbia a burden that constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of their liberty in violation of the Due Process Clause. Pp. 347 U. S. 499-500.

(d) In view of this Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, ante, p. 347 U. S. 483, that the Constitution prohibits the States from maintaining racially segregated public schools, it would be unthinkable that the same Constitution would impose a lesser duty on the Federal Government. P. 347 U. S. 500.

(e) The case is restored to the docket for further argument on specified questions relating to the form of the decree. P. 347 U. S. 500.

Page 347 U. S. 498

Primary Holding

Mirroring the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Court ruled that school segregation by race in the District of Columbia was as unconstitutional as school segregation by race in the states.


The Board of Education of the District of Columbia denied a petition by a group of parents in Anacostia to open the John Phillip Sousa Junior High School as a racially integrated facility. A year later, in 1950, the parents sought admission to the all-white school for 11 African-American children. When they were turned away in accordance with the Board's policy, a law professor at Howard University brought a lawsuit. The claim initially was dismissed by the trial court.

The Supreme Court decided this case on the same day as Brown v. Board of Education, which addressed the same issue in othe states, although the arguments in this case did not attack the concept of "separate but equal" as directly as in Brown.



  • Earl Warren (Author)
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • Stanley Forman Reed
  • Felix Frankfurter
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Robert Houghwout Jackson
  • Harold Hitz Burton
  • Tom C. Clark
  • Sherman Minton

Like the opinion in Brown, this opinion was unanimous. It needed to rest on a different foundation than Brown, since the Fourteenth Amendment does not apply to the District of Columbia. However, Warren stated that the Fifth Amendment, which does apply to the District of Columbia, incorporated the principles of the Fourteenth Amendment so that they governed this situation. This theory is known as reverse incorporation. Despite the absence of references to equal protection in the Fifth Amendment, Warren felt that it was illogical for the federal government to be able to engage in discriminatory conduct if state governments could not. He thus blurred the line between equal protection and due process, the latter of which is contained in the Fifth Amendment, to achieve this result. This pragmatic thinking shaped many of Warren's opinions

Case Commentary

The case was overshadowed by Brown, which had a much broader impact and more sweeping language. Its most important legacy is the concept of reverse incorporation and the application of the same anti-discrimination principles to state and federal governments.

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