34 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2019
Date Written: March 10, 2019
In Cooper v. Aaron, the United States Supreme Court articulated a doctrine of judicial supremacy to justify the role of federal courts as protectors of the rights of minorities. In Cooper, the Court reaffirmed its opinion in Brown v. Board of Education that state laws mandating racial segregation in public schools violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Cooper responded to State of Arkansas officials who had rejected that mandate and flouted the Court’s influence. Prior to Brown and Cooper, progressives had been wary of the Court’s approach to individual rights. During the early part of the nineteenth century, the Court had primarily used its power to strike down laws that progressives supported. In Cooper, the Court asserted two propositions that were essential to protecting civil rights: that the Court was committed to protecting those rights, and that it would assert all of its power to do so.
In the ensuing decade, the Warren Court issued numerous rulings expanding minority rights, increasing access to the federal courts for civil rights plaintiffs and upholding the constitutionality of federal civil rights statutes. As a result, liberals embraced the doctrine of judicial supremacy and the view that the federal courts were the primary protectors of minority rights. Liberals’ embrace of judicial supremacy in the 1960s stood in sharp contrast to the attitudes towards the Court held by progressives since the Reconstruction Era - viewing the Court as a threat to individual rights, not a champion of those rights. By contrast, progressives viewed the Warren Court as a champion of minority rights. However, in recent years, the Court has reverted to its previous role, using its supreme power to strike down laws that protect minority rights. Indeed, with the Court’s new entrenched conservative majority, Cooper supremacy presents a threat to the rights of minorities with few limits on the Court’s power.
Keywords: civil rights, judicial review, Supreme Court, Cooper v. Aaron
JEL Classification: K19, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation