This Day in the Law
January 12

US Supreme Court Grants Black Woman Admission to Law School (1948)

On January 12, 1948, the United States Supreme Court decided the seminal case of Spiuel v. Oklahoma State Board of Regents in favor of Ada Sipuel, a black woman who was seeking admission to the School of Law of the University of Oklahoma. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision reversed the decision of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which had determined that the School of Law could deny Sipuel admission based on her race.

The Oklahoma State Board of Regents argued that Oklahoma had a plan for the establishment of a separate law school for black students, and therefore they were not discriminating against Sipuel. The prosecution, however, pointed out that while Sipuel waited for this proposed school to be built, she was being discriminated against, and "discrimination cannot be excused because it may be temporary."

On January 12, 1948, the Supreme Court stated that Sipuel was "entitled to secure legal education afforded by a state institution." The Supreme Court noted that many white people had been accepted to the School of Law, and that by denying Sipuel, they were violating the Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted after the Civil War and granted black people citizenship and equal rights. This decision set a precedent for the integration of public schools.

Ada Sipuel went on to attend the School of Law of the University of Oklahoma, and eventually became the first black woman to sit on the Board of Regents at the University of Oklahoma.

U.S. Constitution
Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla., 332 U.S. 631 (1948)