The United States Constitution stipulates that the legislature, judiciary and the executive branches should be independent from each other. This principle is referred to as the separation of powers and ensures that each branch acts under its own authority. This concept, which forms the basis of the Constitution, can be traced to the Founding Fathers. Among them is James Madison, who is highly credited for authoring various papers which are commonly referred to as the Federalist Papers. Madison recognized the importance of instituting checks and balances on the government so as to enhance transparency, a fact depicted in Federalist Paper No.47 whereby he states ‘no political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value.’
There are various evident influences on Madison’s work. Most notably is John Louis de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu, a French Philosopher, and John Locke. Montesquieu is highly credited for the introduction of a defined check-and-balance system. This is evident in his highly distributed book, the Spirit of Laws, where the Founding Fathers have borrowed heavily from. Madison recognizes this by stating that ‘the oracle who is always consulted and cited on this subject is the celebrated Montesquieu.’ Despite the fact that it is debatable whether Montesquieu was the actual originator of this concept or it was an adoption of the works of Polybius and other ancient theorems, the principle of separation of powers remains as one of the most vital aspects of the United States Constitution. Montesquieu, in his works, states that ‘freedom is abolished and totalitarian powers prevail whenever any individual or group controls any two of the three powers.’ This concept is directly adopted by Madison in Federalist Paper No. 47, where he states that the absence of the principle of separation of powers in any government is ‘the very definition of tyranny.’
Madison’s work can also be traced to other individuals such as Locke and Harrington. Locke regarded the principle of separation of powers as playing a subsidiary role in his depiction of parliamentary supremacy. Harrington, on the other hand, considered this doctrine as a prerequisite for any democratic government. Although Locke supported the introduction of a check and balance system, as evidenced by his statement that ‘The legislature neither must nor can transfer the power of making law to anybody else, or place it anywhere but where the people have,’ Montesquieu is regarded as having had a higher influence on Madison and his works. He re-defined and modified ancient theories into a solid doctrine that could be adopted by any government.
By subdividing the government into three arms, the federalist concepts eliminate any chances of an individual usurping power through legislative measures. In addition to advocating for separation of powers, the doctrine institutes a check on the system. These features must have appealed to both Hamilton and Madison. Therefore, Montesqieu became the great foreign hero who championed for the Constitutional rights of the Americans.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka was a 1954 landmark ruling made by the United States Supreme Court. The court declared that all state laws, which established different schools for whites and blacks respectively, as null and void. This ruling overturned an earlier decision, the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which allowed a particular state to segregate its populace if it chose to. The ruling stated that ‘separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.’ Hence, de jure segregation of persons, on the basis of their race, was an outright violation of various articles of the United States Constitution such as the Equal Protection Clause , a subsection of the Fourteenth Amendment. This decision served as a milestone in racial integration and the establishment of civil rights movements.
In the case, eight-year-old Linda Brown had been denied admission at a Kansas state school only five blocks from her home for the sole reason that she was of African-American origin. The Board of Education in Topeka maintained separate educational facilities for both whites and non-whites. Therefore, they chose to assign her to a school 21 blocks from her home. This forced her parents to file a lawsuit challenging this decision. This made it obligatory for the court to review the Equal Protection Clause and determine whether segregation of schools, solely on the basis of race, was constitutional.
Attorneys representing Linda Brown argued that segregation led to unequal educational opportunities and low self-esteem among the African-American students. This ultimately showed that African- Americans were inferior to whites. On the other hand, attorneys for The Board argued that similar facilities and standards were offered in both cases and were in accordance with the Plessy standards. In addition, they argued that segregation did not harm any race.
The court, under Chief Justice Warren, unanimously ruled that segregation should be stamped out since it contravened the Equal Protection Clause. He stated that ‘to separate (children) from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.’ Not only did this landmark decision overturn earlier rulings, such as the Plessy doctrine, but also served to put an end to an era of segregationist practices. This in itself fostered the first civil rights revolution of the late 1950s. After more than two-thirds of a century had passed since the Fourteenth Amendment had been put in place, its true spirit and intention was finally realized.
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