American Treasures of the Library of Congress: Reason

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With All
Deliberate Speed

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka
Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965)
Annotated draft decree regarding
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka,
April 8, 1955
Page 2
Manuscript Division

The deliberations of the Supreme Court in its landmark case of 1954, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which found school segregation to be unconstitutional, are well documented in the Library's manuscript collections.

After the Brown opinion was announced, the Court heard additional arguments during the following term on the decree implementing the ruling. While the NAACP lawyers had proposed to use the word "forthwith" to achieve an accelerated desegregation timetable, Chief Justice Earl Warren adopted Justice Felix Frankfurter's suggestion to use a phrase associated with the revered Oliver Wendell Holmes, "with all deliberate speed." Shortly after Warren retired from the Court he acknowledged that "all deliberate speed" was chosen as a benchmark because "there were so many blocks preventing an immediate solution of the thing in reality that the best we could look for would be a progression of action."

It became clear over time that critics of desegregation were using the doctrine to delay compliance with Brown, and in 1964 Justice Hugo Black declared in a desegregation opinion that "the time for mere 'deliberate speed' has run out." This draft decree with Frankfurter's own changes in pencil, along with related unique documents in the Frankfurter and Warren papers, has helped scholars analyze the evolution of the Brown case.

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