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Published: February 13, 2011

Aaron v. McKinley

A 1959 federal court decision that declared Arkansas school-closing laws unconstitutional and ended a two-year crisis over desegregation of Little Rock schools. In 1957, Arkansas governor Orval E. Faubus blocked the enrollment of nine black students into previously all-white Central High School in Little Rock. Under federal district court order to desegregate its schools, the school had accepted the nine for admission under a longterm plan it had adopted for gradual desegregation. Faubus “interposed” his own authority between the federal government and the local school board by ordering the Arkansas National Guard to keep public order and bar the black students from school. After the federal court ordered Faubus to cease interfering with the promulgation of its order, he withdrew the Guard, and the students entered the school, but white mobs congregated around the school and threatened their safety.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower responded by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and ordering it to disperse the mobs and enforce desegregation. Governor Faubus again intervened by ramrodding a school-closing law through the state legislature and closing Little Rock High Schools for the 1958–59 school year. In Aaron v. McKinley, the federal court reasserted the post–Civil War legal relationship between the states and the federal government by striking down the Faubus “doctrine of interposition.” It ruled the school closing law unconstitutional, and Little Rock schools reopened and remained integrated thereafter. Aaron was one of the nine students seeking admission to Central High School, and McKinley the Arkansas official who had closed it.
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