Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County

PETITIONER: Cocheyse J. Griffin, et al.
RESPONDENT: County School Board of Prince Edward County, et al.
LOCATION: Prince Edward County, VA

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 377 US 218 (1964)
ARGUED: Mar 30, 1964
DECIDED: May 25, 1964
GRANTED: Jan 06, 1964

Archibald Cox - for the United States, as amicus curiae
J. Segar Gravatt - for the respondents
Robert L. Carter - for the petitioners
R. D. McIlwaine, III - for the respondents

Facts of the case

In 1951, a group of African American students in Prince Edward County, Virginia filed a complaint in district court alleging that the Virginia laws requiring segregated schools denied them their Fourteenth Amendment rights to equal protection under the law. When the Supreme Court decided Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, this case and others like it were remanded to the lower courts to order desegregation. Prince Edward County resisted desegregation by refusing to levy and collect the school taxes for the 1959-1960 school year, which forced the public schools in the county to close. The Prince Edward School Foundation formed to ensure private education for the white students. African American students did not receive formal education from 1959 until 1963, when federal, state, and county authorities collaborated to hold desegregated classes in county-owned buildings. In 1960, the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance providing tuition grants for the children attending the private schools of the Prince Edward School Foundation.

In 1961, the petitioners amended their original complaint to include new respondents and the elements of failing to provide public free schools in the county and using public funds to pay for segregated private schools. The district court held that the county could not pay the tuition grants as long as the public school remained closed, but the court refrained from making a decision regarding the closed public schools until the Virginia courts ruled on the issue. Later, without waiting for the decision of the Virginia courts, the district court held that the public schools must reopen. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the decisions on the grounds that the district court should have waited until the state courts determined the validity of the tuition grants and the closing of the public schools.


Does the closing of the Prince Edward County public schools deny the African American students in the county equal protection under the law as guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 30, 1964 (Part 1) in Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 30, 1964 (Part 2) in Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County

Earl Warren:

Mr. Carter, you may continue.

Robert L. Carter:

We want to make in the time left, several points.

One, that the State is deeply involved in the -- this whole operation that as a matter of fact, but for the fact that the Prince Edward County closed the schools, the Prince Edward School Foundation would not be functioning and what has really happened is by virtue of its closing the schools, it is responsible and directly responsible for the fact that children are now going to the schools.

So that I don't believe that the State can say, that in this instance, “We're innocent bystanders and innocent parties.

Secondly, we don't believe -- what we think is clear is that the schools were closed in order to defeat and frustrate, in order not to maintain unsegregated schools as the Constitution requires.

Hugo L. Black:

Suppose the whole State of Virginia had done that?

Suppose the whole State of Virginia or an entire state --

Robert L. Carter:

I don't believe, Mr. Justice --

Hugo L. Black:

– had decided it wouldn't run public schools anymore?

Robert L. Carter:

If the whole State of Virginia had said, that it would not run public schools anymore, I don't believe that this would be anything that they could come here and say that they would be allowed to do.

And I don't think, one, I don't think that they can do it for the reasons that they can't do it in order not to obey the commands of the Constitution and it seems to me that in this instance --

Hugo L. Black:

Suppose they just decided they didn't want to run public by any reason at all and so there would no more public schools in Virginia?

Robert L. Carter:

Well, I would think that, as I attempted to answer the question of Mr. Justice Goldberg, it seems to me that the question of the maintenance of education for one of the necessities of citizenship is it has been not really held by this Court to be a duty on the part of states, but this Court has said, that it is one of the most vital functions --

Hugo L. Black:

Suppose it is –-

Robert L. Carter:

I beg your pardon, sir?

Hugo L. Black:

Suppose it is that the Constitution give us the right to determine that the States will do something because we think it's necessary to be done for the people, unless the Constitution requires it.

Robert L. Carter:

Well, I would think that insofar as the -- that the question of education itself is concerned, since it seems to me that it is one of the matters and functions that are essential for the very process of citizenship -- for citizenship, for us to carry out our duties as a citizen.

I would think that the State, an argument can be made, the State cannot withdraw from the public school system, but of course, what I --

Hugo L. Black:

Suppose it can, what I'm really -- your time is getting short, I thought your point for was probably your -- the point that you were arguing and presented to us more vigorously, the State might have a perfect right.

Assume that the State had the perfect right to abandon all of these public school systems.

If you can show as you seem to assume there that the State is doing this in this county as a part of a plan which you had in mind denying people the right to get an education on the ground of color.

It has that consequence and that's what it was done before and it has that consequence and you can get a finding of some kind of that effect, either of finding of facts of inclusion of law, you would have a much narrow point than you are presenting on (Voice Overlap), would you not?

Robert L. Carter:

Well yes sir, but I thought that in my argument I had made the point that the schools were in fact close for this reason and I was addressing -- attempting to address myself to the question where you -- that I felt the Court indicated to, is to whether or not the schools could be closed for any reason.

I think that --

Hugo L. Black:

Do you any finding of the District Judge on that fact?

Robert L. Carter:

The District Judge found that the schools were closed and there is no question, but that the schools were closed, in order that the Board of Supervisors would not be required to operate schools in which Negro and white children were educated together.

Hugo L. Black:

But did the Court find that that was a part of a state plan whereby although the State would not abandon them all at one time, that that was a state plan under which when necessary to do so, it ceased having education in one county or one area of one county.

Robert L. Carter:

No, sir.

I don't believe that I can say to the Court that that was the finding.

The Court --