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Judge Paul McCormick of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, Central Division ruled first that the segregation violated California’s own laws, but then he went on, writes Professor Philippa Strum, the resident senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, “to suggest a new interpretation of the federal equal protection clause.” McCormick wrote: “A paramount requisite in the American system of public education is social equality. It must be open to all children by unified school association regardless of lineage.” As Professor Strum notes, “That, simply stated, was a declaration that ‘separate but equal’ was not equal.”

Before Judge McCormick’s decision was appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, the different school districts involved in the litigation reacted in different ways. Westminster integrated its elementary schools for the 1946-1947 school year by placing grades 1-4 in Westminster Main and grades 5-8 in Hoover. Finally, the Mendez children were able to attend Westminster Main.

In April 1947, the U.S. Court of Appeals handed down a unanimous decision. While the Court of Appeals upheld Judge McCormick’s judgment, it did so only on the basis that the segregation violated California law. The Court’s opinion noted that the U.S. Supreme Court’s segregation decisions were not controlling in this case since there was no state law mandating segregation of Mexican-American children, and there were such state laws in the litigation decided by the nation’s highest Court. As Professor Strum indicates, “The Court of Appeals was only willing to say that Mexican-American children could not be segregated because the legislature had not decided that sending them to separate schools was state policy.”

The school districts involved chose not to pursue an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sources: For a full and complete treatment of this case see Philippa Strum. Mendez v. Westminster: School Desegregation and Mexican American Rights. University Press of Kansas, 2010. ISBN 978-0-7006-1719-7. Also, see Neil Foley. Quest for Equality: The Failed Promise of Black-Brown Solidarity. Harvard University Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-674-05023-5.