State of Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada

305 U.S. 337

Case Year: 1938

Case Ruling: 6-2, Reversed and Remanded

Opinion Justice: Hughes

More Information

Concurring Opinions

Dissenting Opinions

Court Opinion Joiner(s):

Black, Brandeis, Reed, Roberts, Stone


1st Concurring Opinion



1st Dissenting Opinion

Author: McReynolds

Joiner(s): Butler

2nd Concurring Opinion



2nd Dissenting Opinion



3rd Concurring Opinion



3rd Dissenting Opinion



Other Concurring Opinions:


In 1935, Lloyd Gaines graduated from Missouri's Lincoln University, a state-supported institution for the education of blacks. He then applied for admission to the law school at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Although he satisfied the necessary requirements for admission, the University of Missouri did not permit the admission of black students. Missouri had plans to improve the educational opportunities available at Lincoln University, but it had yet to establish a law school there. The state, however, did have a program for supporting black students who desired educational programs not available at Lincoln. Missouri offered to pay reasonable tuition and fees for black citizens to attend an institution of higher learning in an adjacent state. Law schools at universities in four adjacent states (Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois) offered admission to out-of-state black students.

Gaines rejected the opportunity to study in another state. He filed a legal complaint against the University of Missouri's registrar, S.W. Canada, and other school officials that requested a writ of mandamus ordering the University of Missouri to admit him. Both the state trial court and the Missouri Supreme Court rejected Gaines's case. The Missouri judges agreed that the state had an obligation to provide equal educational opportunities for its black citizens and noted that the state did intend to satisfy this obligation by developing a law school for blacks at Lincoln. Until the Lincoln law school was fully operative, however, the state's offer to make a legal education available in an adjacent state was a reasonable alternative. Gaines took his case to the Supreme Court.



... The state court stresses the advantages that are afforded by the law schools of the adjacent States, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois, which admit non-resident negroes. The court considered that these were schools of high standing where one desiring to practice law in Missouri can get 'as sound, comprehensive, valuable legal education' as in the University of Missouri; that the system of education in the former is the same as that in the latter and is designed to give the students a basis for the practice of law in any State where the Anglo-American system of law obtains; that the law school of the University of Missouri does not specialize in Missouri law and that the course of study and the case books used in the five schools are substantially identical. Petitioner insists that for one intending to practice in Missouri there are special advantages in attending a law school there, both in relation to the opportunities for the particular study of Missouri law and for the observation of the local courts, and also in view of the prestige of the Missouri law school among the citizens of the State, his prospective clients. Proceeding with its examination of relative advantages, the state court found that the difference in distances to be traveled afforded no substantial ground of complaint and that there was an adequate appropriation to meet the full tuition fees which petitioner would have to pay. We think that these matters are beside the point. The basic consideration is not as to what sort of opportunities, other States provide, or whether they are as good as those in Missouri, but as to what opportunities Missouri itself furnishes to white students and denies to negroes solely upon the ground of color. The admissibility of laws separating the races in the enjoyment of privileges afforded by the State rests wholly upon the equality of the privileges which the laws give to the separated groups within the State. The question here is not of a duty of the State to supply legal training, or of the quality of the training which it does supply, but of its duty when it provides such training to furnish it to the residents of the State upon the basis of an equality of right. By the operation of the laws of Missouri a privilege has been created for white law students which is denied to negroes by reason of their race. The white resident is afforded legal education within the State; the negro resident having the same qualifications is refused it there and must go outside the State to obtain it. That is a denial of the equality of legal right to the enjoyment of the privilege which the State has set up, and the provision for the payment of tuition fees in another State does not remove the discrimination.

The equal protection of the laws is 'a pledge of the protection of equal laws'. Yick Wo v. Hopkins. 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 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 our dual system. It seems to be implicit in respondents' argument that if other States did not provide courses for legal education, it would nevertheless be the constitutional duty of Missouri when it supplied such courses for white students to make equivalent provision for negroes. But that plain duty would exist because it rested upon the State independently of the action of other States. We find it 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....

Here, petitioner's right was a personal one. It was as an individual that he was entitled to the equal protection of the laws, and the State was bound to furnish him within its borders facilities for legal education substantially equal to those which the State there afforded for persons of the white race, whether or not other negroes sought the same opportunity.

It is urged, however, that the provision for tuition outside the State is a temporary one,--that it is intended to operate merely pending the establishment of a law department for negroes at Lincoln University. While in that sense the discrimination may be termed temporary, it may nevertheless continue for an indefinite period by reason of the discretion given to the curators of Lincoln University and the alternative of arranging for tuition in other States, as permitted by the state law as construed by the state court, so long as the curators find it unnecessary and impracticable to provide facilities for the legal instruction of negroes within the State. In that view, we cannot regard the discrimination as excused by what is called its temporary character.... ... We are of the opinion that ... petitioner was entitled to be admitted to the law school of the State University in the absence of other and proper provision for his legal training within the State.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Missouri is reversed and the cause is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. It is so ordered.

Reversed and remanded.


Considering the disclosures of the record, the Supreme Court of Missouri arrived at a tenable conclusion and its judgment should be affirmed. That court well understood the grave difficulties of the situation and rightly refused to upset the settled legislative policy of the State by directing a mandamus....

For a long time Missouri has acted upon the view that the best interest of her people demands separation of whites and negroes in schools. Under the opinion just announced, I presume she may abandon her law school and thereby disadvantage her white citizens without improving petitioner's opportunities for legal instruction; or she may break down the settled practice concerning separate schools and thereby, as indicated by experience, damnify both races. Whether by some other course it may be possible for her to avoid condemnation is matter for conjecture.

The State has offered to provide the negro petitioner opportunity for study of the law--if perchance that is the thing really desired--by paying his tuition at some nearby school of good standing. This is far from unmistakable disregard of his rights and in the circumstances is enough to satisfy any reasonable demand for specialized training. It appears that never before has a negro applied for admission to the Law School and none has ever asked that Lincoln University provide legal instruction.

The problem presented obviously is a difficult and highly practical one. A fair effort to solve it has been made by offering adequate opportunity for study when sought in good faith. The State should not be unduly hampered through theorization inadequately restrained by experience....