Thursday, November 14, 2013

Norwood v. Harrison case brief

Norwood v. Harrison case brief summary
413 U.S. 455 (1973)

Appellant schoolchildren's parents (parents) challenged a three-judge decision of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, which sustained the validity of a Mississippi statutory textbook lending program. Under the program textbooks purchased by appellee State were lent to school students without reference to whether any participating private school had racially discriminatory policies.

The parents filed a class action suit to enjoin in part the enforcement of the State's textbook lending program to private schools.


  • The Court held that the constitutional infirmity of the Mississippi textbook program was that it significantly aided the organization and continuation of a separate system of private schools which, under the district court's holding, could discriminate if they so desired. 
  • Free textbooks were a form of financial assistance inuring to the benefit of the private schools themselves. 
  • When that necessary expense was borne by the State, the economic consequence was to give aid to the enterprise; if the school engaged in discriminatory practices, the State by tangible aid in the form of textbooks thereby gave support to such discrimination. 
  • The State therefore could not grant the type of tangible financial aid here involved if that aid had a significant tendency to facilitate, reinforce, and support private discrimination. 
  • The existence of a permissible purpose, such as fostering quality education to all Mississippi children, could not sustain an action that had an impermissible effect; otherwise the Equal Protection Clause would be a sterile promise.

The Court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. The Court ordered the district court to direct the State to submit for approval a certification procedure under which any school that sought textbooks for its pupils could apply for participation on behalf of the pupils and listed certain factors that had be included in the certification.

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