What U.S. Supreme Court cases have been most influential in the lives of Black Americans? That’s the question that Dr. Nathan Hardy, assistant professor of marketing, put to students in his diversity-certified business course, Black Americans in Business and Society.
Dr. Hardy gave the students a preselected list, based on research from multiple sources about landmark United States Supreme Court cases. Students could choose multiple cases and were asked to research them and explain why the cases interested them and why they seemed significant for Black Americans.
After hearing presentations from their classmates, students voted to rank the cases. With only 16 students in the course, the rankings lack the raw numbers to claim broad validity, but Dr. Hardy plans to expand the research in coming semesters. The class ranked these cases as the top five:
1. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954): By unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices, this case granted equal education to Black Americans and ruled against school segregation.
2. Loving v. Virginia (1967): In another unanimous decision, Virginia laws that barred interracial marriage were struck down (the state also barred interracial sex), setting precedent to strike down similar laws in other states.
3. Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857): Under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, slaves were considered property and not citizens. The upholding of this Amendment heightened tensions regarding slavery that eventually led to the Civil War.
4. State of Missouri ex. rel. Gaines v. Canada, University of Missouri (1938): The case involved a Black man denied law school entry and Missouri’s plan to instead pay for his out-of-state education. The court ruled that the state’s plan was inadequate.
5. Shelley v. Kraemer (1948): This case involved discrimination against the Shelley family and outlawed race-based policies for selling residential housing property. It was a unanimous decision.
“It was interesting to see how the Loving case was ranked as high as the renowned Brown case,” says Dr. Hardy, “because many students did not know states had ever banned interracial marriages and were shocked to learn that.”
Of the 16 cases that the students researched, only eight received votes as influential to Black Americans.