After the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in America, racial discrimination became regulated by the so called Jim Crow laws, which mandated strict segregation of the races. Though such laws were instituted shortly after fighting ended in many cases, they only became formalized after the end of Republican-enforced Reconstruction in the 1870s and 80s during a period known as the nadir of American race relations. This legalized segregation lasted up to the mid-1960s, primarily through the deep and extensive power of Southern Democrats. Chief justice Warren needed to convince the other justices that unanimous decision would hold stronger in the public eye. He had to bring the nation together and not make the desegregation issue about the south against the north. This would publicly be a major setback for the nation. Justices court in the Plessey v Ferguson case of 1896 was obsolete. The omission of remedy was a smart decision made by Justice Warren because it falls under an essential rhetorical situation.
In the Brown case the rhetorical strategy of omission of remedy was used by Justice Warren to gain unanimity among the justices of the Supreme Court, by declaring segregation unconstitutional and not attaching a solution to it. This strategy would buy the courts time and help persuade the public schools hence forth the remedy issue would be addressed at a later time, gaining a unanimous decision among the justices. Before writing the Brown opinion Chief Justice took a few things under consideration in order to put together an opinion which would persuade his audience. The First step was accepting the cases. The NAACP was putting pressure on the courts to address the issue of desegregation. The supreme courts image and credibility was at stake, if it kept avoiding this issue. By consolidating South Carolina, Kansas and Virginia, Bolling v Sharpe and the Delaware case, and making Brown the first case, this would draw less attention to the southern Region of the country. The Brown case would be a National problem not a southern one.
The Rhetorical consideration in the Brown case was to have the Supreme Court make a unanimous decision. A unanimous decision is thought to convey the message more forcefully than split decisions. Even though Chief Justice Warren made his position clear at the conference in December of 1953, he did not allow a vote to be taken for fear of dividing the court. A lot of discussions of the case continued until a vote was finally taken. “During this time, Chief Justice bargained, wheedled and cajoled until the most important members of his audience, Justice Clark, Reed, Frankfurter and Jackson were all convinced to join in a single unanimous opinion (Prentice, 109).”
Unanimity was ultimately reached in Brown I. After Chief Justice Vinson’s last term there was eighty percent dissension in most desegregation cases. When Chief Justice Warren took over he made it clear he supported the end of the separate but equal doctrine. Lastly is choosing the author. A rhetorical ploy in the Brown case was to choose an author to write the opinion of the Supreme Court. Choosing a southern justice would not have a persuasive impact among the courts as well as the public. Chief Justice Warren felt that he should write it to bring the biggest impact. It would also bring a serious persuasive atmosphere to the decision of the court. The rhetorical strategy of Unanimity was also used in the Supreme Court in the Brown v. Board decision according to Prentice. Chief Justice Earl Warren wanted to make sure all nine justices agreed on the issue. By having all nine justices agree on their decision, this showed a concrete and “forceful” decision that would be enforced and changed immediately. If there was a dissenting opinion, there would be a group of rebels who would use the opinion as support only causing more chaos and possible harm on America. Warren did not wanted a divided court, because this would weaken the court’s decision in the public’s eye. By the court standing as unanimous, it made the public feel as if the whole country was behind the decision. Prentice believes this was a rhetorical strategy used by the court, because it’s a technique that court uses when they feel the institution is “threatened.” The Chief Justice opinion addressed all and affected everyone who would partake in the American school system.
According to Prentice, the court used rhetorical strategy by making sure Chief Justice Warren wrote one concrete opinion. If the court chose a justice that was from a certain part of the country, for example, the rest of the country, especially those in favor of segregation would feel that this was a decision based solely on the opinion of a certain demographic population of the country. The Chief Justice stands as an authoritative figure in the Supreme Court thus creating one opinion in order to show the national public that this case was extremely important and the decision was not open for interpretation. The omission of remedy was a rhetorical technique used in choosing the author as well. The court needed to show indirectly that they needed to correct the bad without losing credibility or overruling past precedents.
Another reason why the omission of remedy is a rhetorical situation is the writing of the Brown opinion. Chief Justice had to make sure he was persuasive enough to convince not only the other Justices, but the Court and the community that this case affected. Chief Justice Warren made the opinion of the Court short and sweet for precise reasoning. First reason was to make it clear to the public, no distortion in the decision of the Court. The second he did not include opinionated language which would incite the public. It was short, non-rhetorical, unemotional, and non-accusatory. Justices wanted to fix the problem without accusing anyone of fault.
“Mr. Chief Justice Warren delivered the opinion of the Court. These cases were decided on May 17, 1954. The opinions of that date, declaring the fundamental principle that racial discrimination in public education is unconstitutional (Prentice 111).”
The brown opinion contained very little in the way of factual development. Chief Justice Warren considered the possibility that the opinion would be more persuasive if it contained a detailed litany of the sordid mistreatment accorded blacks over the years, coupled with a detailed factual indictment of the failure of the “separate but equal” doctrine to bring about anything even approaching actual equality between white and black schools. Chief justice Warren apparently concluded that such language would serve primarily to persuade those who already were in agreement with the decision. Those who supported segregation likely would not have changed their minds upon hearing such language, but instead might have reacted even more adversely to an opinion which added insult to injury.
Another factor that stood as support to show rhetorical situation in the omission of remedy was the conciseness. Chief Justice Warren created this opinion in a “KISS” format, keep it short and simple. By doing this, there left no room for the public to interpret his message thus stirring up controversy. The language used in the opinion was ideas as well in that the wording was revised in order to avoid showing a bias as well as showing how the Supreme Court made their decision and what major grounds they made it on. The audience of this decision was a very large number that ranged in various levels of intelligence which made the author of the piece describe the decision in the easiest and most understanding format. This way of writing avoided any media influence on the piece that would misunderstand the objective of it and sway the public’s reaction. Chief Justice Warren also wanted to avoid showing all the hardships of African-American’s, because only the people in favor of the decision would agree with it. The court’s objective was to alert the public in the new changes that stood before them in the easiest way of understanding with the most minimal way to misinterpret.
In summary the brown v board of education case shows how law plays an important role in the Supreme Court’s decisions. It shows how important it was to have the right justice deliver the opinion of the court, which would create the greatest impact. How to keep the decision short and sweet so as not to incite, blame, or distort the issue. It explained how detrimental segregation could be to a certain race, whether mentally, socially or psychologically. In class all the article we read about rhetorical devices or strategies would agree with prentice that rhetoric is a persuasive device. In short rhetoric is sometimes more important than facts. Also the Prentice article on the rhetorical strategies used in the American Court room stands as a guide for the future Supreme Court justices in that it shows how many little factors influence and stand as building blocks in a very controversial and ultimate life changing decision. The American education system stands as a very strong and firm system due to the Brown v. Board of Education case and shows the American people that rhetorical strategies are used every day in professional settings in order to convince the audience it is addressing. The Brown v. Board case serves as one of the most historical and societal precedents in American history today. Prentice showed that Chief Justice Warren’s omission of remedy was a rhetorical situation.
Prentice, Robert;” Supreme Court Rhetoric”- Part III (Pages 102- 122)