Case: Cooper v. Aaron (Little Rock School case)

56-03113 | U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas

Filed Date: 1956

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

This school desegregation case originated in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1956. This summary is based on information from historical sources and available judicial opinions (no electronic docket is available). In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock School District decided to create and implement a school integration plan (details of the plan were summarized in Aaron v. Cooper, 143 F. Supp. 855 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 27, 1956.). The integration plan consisted of a slow transition towar…

This school desegregation case originated in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1956. This summary is based on information from historical sources and available judicial opinions (no electronic docket is available). In the wake of Brown v. Board of Education, the Little Rock School District decided to create and implement a school integration plan (details of the plan were summarized in Aaron v. Cooper, 143 F. Supp. 855 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 27, 1956.). The integration plan consisted of a slow transition towards a unitary school system starting with the districts’ high schools. The plan was approved by the School Board for the Little Rock School District in 1955 and was meant to go into effect in September of 1957. However, the NAACP objected to the plan, and in February 1956, a group of parents of students in the school district (referred to as the “Little Rock Nine”) brought this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas against the School Board. Plaintiffs argued that the school district needed to implement the plan faster than the original timeline specified.

On August 27, 1956, District Judge John Miller held that the school district’s plan was sufficient under Brown v. Board of Education. The goal, he said, was desegregation with all deliberate speed, and the school board’s proposed slow speed towards that goal was appropriate so long as it acted with good faith. Aaron v. Cooper, 143 F. Supp. 855 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 27, 1956). The decision was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, which remanded for implementation of the plan. Aaron v. Cooper, 243 F.2d 361 (8th Cir. Apr. 26, 1957).

However, several days before the Little Rock Nine were scheduled to attend Little Rock Central High School, a mother of a white student at the school filed a petition in the U.S. District Court to have the integration plan postponed due to a fear of violence breaking out at the school. Additionally, Governor Orval Faubus issued an order declaring a state of emergency and called in the Arkansas National Guard. He declared that his purpose was to prevent mob violence; the plan was to prevent the Little Rock Nine from attending Little Rock Central High School.

On September 3, 1957, the School District filed a petition with the U.S. District Court asking for instructions on how to proceed given the Governor’s statement. Judge Ronald N. Davies required the School District to show cause why it should not proceed with the integration plan and ultimately ruled that it failed to meet its burden. As such, he ordered the school to integrate according to plan. Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (Sept. 29, 1958).

The parties continued to battle in federal district court throughout the month of September over implementing the desegregation plan. The Governor was added as a defendant and the Attorney General for the United States and United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas were both added as amicus parties in the suit. The School Board and Governor filed various motions to suspend the integration plan or dismiss the suit. The Court denied these motions. Eventually, the Court issued an injunction against Governor Faubus and the other parties that were interfering with the desegregation plan. Specifically, the order required that Governor Faubus stop using the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the plan from continuing. Aaron v. Cooper, 156 F. Supp. 220 (E.D. Ark. Sept. 21, 1957).

On September 23, 1957, the Little Rock Nine were once again scheduled to attend school, but a mob outside the school prevented them from attending. On September 23, 1957, President Eisenhower issued a proclamation stating that all those obstructing justice had to cease and desist. He also issued an executive order on September 24, 1957 to the Secretary of Defense providing that the Secretary was authorized to use the United States Military to enforce the orders of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Arkansas. Exec. Order No. 10730, 22 Fed. Reg. 7628 (Sept. 24, 1957). With the resulting military presence, the Little Rock Nine attended the previously all white high school. Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (Sept. 29, 1958). The federalized National Guard remained in Little Rock for several months.

In February of 1958, the School Board petitioned the District Court for permission to stop implementing the integration plan and remove the Little Rock Nine from Little Rock Central High School. The School Board requested a more gradual plan because the presence of the federalized National Guard and Army disrupted the students’ ability to learn. The District Court agreed and granted the stay. Aaron v. Cooper, 162 F. Supp. 13 (E.D. Ark. June 23, 1958). The Little Rock Nine appealed to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari, finding that the matter would appropriately be adjudicated by the Court of Appeals. Aaron v. Cooper, 357 U.S. 566 (June 30, 1958).

On August 18, 1958, the 8th Circuit held the District Court erred in granting the stay. The 8th Circuit found that even though there were threats of violence and public disapproval of the integration plan, the incidents were insufficient to justify suspension of the plan. Aaron v. Cooper, 257 F.2d 33 (8th Cir. Aug. 18, 1958). The school district appealed this decision to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court held a special August term to hear argument on the case.

On September 12, 1958, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous order endorsing the original opinion of the District Court and the 8th Circuit that required the School Board to proceed with the integration plan on the original timeline. Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (Sept. 12, 1958). On September 29, 1958, the Supreme Court issued its opinion explaining its reasoning for requiring the School Board to finish the desegregation plan. The Supreme Court recounted and endorsed its reasoning in Brown v. Board of Education that having segregated schools constitutes a violation of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court held the constitutional rights of students were not to be discriminated against due to race in school admission and state actors could not deny them directly or indirectly. Additionally, this case is frequently cited because the Supreme Court found that its opinion in Brown v. Board of Education, was the supreme law of the land and therefore binding on State actors under Article VI of the Constitution. It relied on Marbury v. Madison for this principle. Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (Sept. 29, 1958).

After this opinion was handed down from the Supreme Court, the Arkansas State Legislature passed two statutes to prevent the integration of the school district. The first provided that the schools were not to be integrated, except by majority vote, and that the governor would be able to close the schools via executive order. The second provided that any money that would be spent on a child at a closed school would be given to a school that he might later attend. Governor Faubus promptly used his new power to close the high schools in the Little Rock School District. Aaron v. McKinley, 173 F.Supp. 944 (E.D. Ark. June 18, 1959); encyclopediaofarkansas.net.

The Little Rock Nine plaintiffs once again moved for the District Court to reopen the schools. However, the District Court found that it lacked the jurisdiction necessary to issue the relief the plaintiffs desired. The 8th Circuit vacated the judgment of the District Court and ordered the District Court to issue an order against the School District and Governor Faubus, holding they could take no further action to prevent the implementation of the desegregation plan. Aaron v. Cooper, 261 F.2d 97 (8th Cir. Nov. 10, 1958). On January 9, 1959, the District Court issued an order that if the schools were to be reopened, the desegregation plan would need to be implemented. Aaron v. Cooper, 169 F. Supp. 325 (E.D. Ark. Jan. 9, 1959).

The public schools in Little Rock, Arkansas remained closed for a full year. Most white students and some black students were able to enroll in either an open out-of-district public school or a private school. Many black students were unable to attend any school in this year. See encyclopediaofarkansas.net for more information on “The Lost Year”.

The plaintiffs filed a supplemental complaint to the original suit as a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division, against the School Board, alleging the statutes were unconstitutional (because we do not have the docket to this case, we do not know exactly when this complaint was filed). On June 18, 1959, a three-judge district court panel (Judge Sanborn, Judge Miller, and Judge Beck) held the statutes were unconstitutional and the proclamation of Governor Faubus to close the schools was void. The court held that the Board of Directors of the Little Rock School District needed to implement the integration plan approved in Cooper v. Aaron and that the defendants (and their successors) were enjoined from engaging in any act that would prevent the integration plan from desegregating the school district. Aaron v. McKinley, 173 F.Supp. 944 (E.D. Ark. June 18, 1959). On December 14, 1959, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the District Court. Faubus v. Aaron, 361 U.S. 197 (Dec. 14, 1959).

Available Opinions:

Aaron v. Cooper, 143 F. Supp. 855 (E.D. Ark. Aug. 27, 1956).

Aaron v. Cooper, 243 F.2d 361 (8th Cir. Apr. 26, 1957).

Aaron v. Cooper, 156 F. Supp. 220 (E.D. Ark. Sept. 21, 1957).

Aaron v. Cooper, 162 F. Supp. 13 (E.D. Ark. June 23, 1958).

Aaron v. Cooper, 357 U.S. 566 (June 30, 1958). Yes

Aaron v. Cooper, 257 F.2d 33 (8th Cir. Aug. 18, 1958) yes

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 28 (Sept. 11, 1958). yes

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (Sept. 12, 1958) yes

Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (Sept. 29, 1958). Yes

Aaron v. Cooper, 261 F.2d 97 (8th Cir. Nov. 10, 1958). Yes

Aaron v. Cooper, 169 F. Supp. 325 (E.D. Ark. Jan. 9, 1959). Yes

Faubus v. US, 254 F.2d 797 (8th Cir. Apr. 28, 1958).

Faubus v. US, 358 U.S. 829 (Oct. 13, 1958).

Aaron v. McKinley, 173 F.Supp. 944 (E.D. Ark. June 18, 1959).

Faubus v. Aaron, 361 U.S. 197 (Dec. 14, 1959).

Exec. Order No. 10730, 22 Fed. Reg. 7628 (Sept. 24, 1957).

Summary Authors

Taylor Brook (11/30/2018)

People


Judge(s)

Davies, Ronald Norwood (North Dakota)

Lemley, Harry Jacob (Arkansas)

Matthes, Marion Charles (Missouri)

Miller, John Elvis (Arkansas)

Vogel, Charles Joseph (North Dakota)

Other Attorney(s)

Active

Expert/Monitor/Master

Butler, Richard C. (Arkansas)

Haley, John H. (Arkansas)

House, A. F. (Arkansas)

Judge(s)

Davies, Ronald Norwood (North Dakota)

Lemley, Harry Jacob (Arkansas)

Matthes, Marion Charles (Missouri)

Miller, John Elvis (Arkansas)

Vogel, Charles Joseph (North Dakota)

Other Attorney(s)

Rogers, William P. (District of Columbia)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Butler, Richard C. (Arkansas)

Haley, John H. (Arkansas)

House, A. F. (Arkansas)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Order in Accordance with Opinion

Aaron v. Cooper

143 F.Supp. 855

Aug. 27, 1956 Order/Opinion

Opinion

Aaron v. Cooper

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

243 F.2d 361

April 26, 1957 Order/Opinion

Opinion

Aaron v. Cooper

156 F.Supp. 220

Sept. 21, 1957 Order/Opinion

Memorandum Opinion

Aaron v. Cooper

June 20, 1958 Order/Opinion

Order

Aaron v. Cooper

June 20, 1958 Order/Opinion

Order Denying Stay

Aaron v. Cooper

June 23, 1958 Order/Opinion

Opinion

Aaron v. Cooper

Supreme Court of the United States

357 U.S. 566, 78 S.Ct. 1189

June 30, 1958 Order/Opinion

Order from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas

Aaron v. Cooper

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

257 F.2d 33

Aug. 18, 1958 Order/Opinion

Petition for Certiorari

Cooper v. Aaron

Supreme Court of the United States

Aug. 18, 1958 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Application for Stay

Cooper v. Aaron

U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Aug. 20, 1958 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Resources

Title Description External URL

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Arkansas

Case Type(s):

School Desegregation

Key Dates

Filing Date: 1956

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Black School Children in Little Rock, Arkansas called the "Little Rock Nine"

Attorney Organizations:

NAACP Legal Defense Fund

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: Yes

Class Action Outcome: Granted

Defendants

William G. Cooper (Little Rock, Arkansas), School District

Governor Orval Faubus , State

Defendant Type(s):

Elementary/Secondary School

Case Details

Causes of Action:

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Constitutional Clause(s):

Equal Protection

Availably Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

U.S. Supreme Court merits opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Order Duration: 1959 - None

Content of Injunction:

Discrimination Prohibition

Issues

General:

Education

School/University policies

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black

Type of Facility:

Government-run