The Impact of Mendez v. Westminster on Brown v. Board of Education


Earl Warren and Thurgood Marshall played significant roles in the desegregation of California schools. Warren had signed the legislation ending school segregation in California. Marshall had submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in favor of the Mendez family and the other plaintiffs in the case. Now Marshall was arguing the case of the Brown family and other families before the Supreme Court, a court led by the same Earl Warren who had recently been appointed chief justice by President Dwight Eisenhower.

In 1951, Oliver Brown, the father of a 9-year-old elementary school student named Linda Brown, filed suit against the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, because his daughter was barred from a school because of her race. That case was argued before the Supreme Court in 1953 and 1954.

For that case, Thurgood Marshall assembled a team of outstanding attorneys, one of whom was Robert L. Carter. 

“What I did was to get the documentation and try to write (the amicus brief submitted by the NAACP in support of the plaintiffs in the Mendez case) and the brief being, segregation per se was unconstitutional,” Robert L. Carter would say later. “And to utilize that, as a matter of fact, as the model for the brief eventually in Brown v. Board of Education, which I wrote. So that’s the link between Westminster and Brown.”

On May 17, 1954, Warren wrote the unanimous decision striking down school segregation as unconstitutional. The landmark decision overturned generations of discriminatory precedent and practice. Ordinary people stood together and changed history. They stood together for the American principles: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” We can do the same today.

Chief Justice Earl Warren

James Nabrit, Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and George Hayes