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History and Landmark Court Decisions

Updated on February 6, 2018
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I am a special needs counselor for grade K-5 and I have a bachelor's degree in Applied Psychology. I've worked with children for 5+ years.

The Supreme Court’s declaration in the Brown v. Board of Education case was a landmark court decision for American history. The Supreme Court’s declaration that segregation was unconstitutional affected and changed society as a whole. The societal mores and beliefs did and did not affect the SCOTUS decision. There were two set of societal beliefs involved in the case; one was stated by Chief Justice Earl Warren, “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (The Learning Network, 2012). The second societal belief involved in the case was that “segregation laws were constitutional if equal facilities were provided to whites and blacks” (The Learning Network, 2012). The societal belief that segregation is not equal caused the court in a 9 to 0 decision to side with the plaintiffs.

The Brown v. Board of Education case demonstrated the ways in which the law can affect society and the ways that society can affect the way the Constitution is viewed. In this case the law affected society when the court ruled against segregation; this forced society to begin to integrate and eventually led to racial equality. The case demonstrated that society can influence the way the Constitution is viewed when the court decided to rule segregation in school unconstitutional even though it had previously been ruled constitutional in the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson (The Learning Network, 2012). At the time of the Plessy v. Ferguson case society caused the segregation to be viewed as constitutional, then later as society changed, it caused Brown v. Board of Education case to rule against segregation.

The Supreme Court’s ruling that that segregation violated the clause of the 14th became the catalyst for societal change (The Learning Network, 2012). Before the Brown v. Board of Education case about one in 40 African-Americans held a college degree; that number has grown since that case to where currently one in five African-Americans hold a college degree (Brownstein, 2014). The court ruling also helped spark movements for full racial equality such as: the Martin Luther King Jr.’s movement, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the Birmingham Campaign. In many ways the Court’s ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case is what led to racial equality in the United States of America.

A forensic psychologist looking at the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case would support that segregation in schools should be ended. A forensic psychologist would support the plaintiffs because of the detrimental psychological effects of segregation on children. The forensic psychologist would know that segregation was psychologically damaging to children based on psychological research and studies such as the research performed by educational psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark (Kelly, 2014). The Clark’s research “underlined the inherent inequality of a separate educational system based on race” (Kelly, 2014). They showed the inherent inequality by asking children as young as three to pick the doll they liked the best from a set of six dolls, three had white skin and three had black skin (Kelly, 2014). The study found that overall the children rejected the black skinned dolls for the white skinned dolls because “they were a nicer color” (Kelly, 2014). This proof that school segregation was inherently unequal is what would cause a forensic psychologist to support the end of school segregation.


Brownstein, R. (2014, April 25). How Brown v. Board of Education Changed—and Didn't Change—American Education. Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

Kelly, M. (2014). Court Case of Brown v. Board of Education. Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

The Learning Network. (2012, May 17). May 17, 1954 | Supreme Court Declares School Segregation Unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. Retrieved January 10, 2015, from

When studying psychology, it’s important to recognize the three primary differences between psychology and the law: goals, methods, and styles. The legal system tries to avoid uncertainty by making unambiguous decisions, but the very nature of the scientific method means that decisions are probabilistic and uncertain. Some examples: Goals: In psychology, the goal is to describe how people behave. Conversely, law attempts to order how people behave. Methods: Psychologists aim to find the truth about behavior; law aims to punish illegal behavior. Styles: Psychologists typically describe how people behave (nomothetic), while the law is concerned with how individuals behave (idiographic). So while psychology is different from the law, psychologists do play important roles that impact the law, specifically acting as advisors, evaluators, and reformers: Advisors: Psychologists give expert testimony, act as trial consultants, or file briefs to inform the court about relevant findings. Evaluators: Psychologists can evaluate the effectiveness of programs or public policies. When evaluation is done to help amend a program or a policy, it is called formative evaluation research. When it is conducted at the conclusion of a program to rate the program’s effectiveness, it is called summative evaluation research. Reformers: Psychologists seek to obtain adequate evidence to suggest changes in a system that is based on history and tradition and whether they feel comfortable making such suggestions. Psychologists have five major ways of influencing the legal system, and chief among them is the role of the expert witness. Expert witnesses can impart knowledge to the judge, lawyers, and jurors. However, judges are the gatekeepers who decide what expert testimony to allow. In serving as an expert, psychologists must avoid being “hired guns.” In other words, it is ethically shaky to be biased in a case simply because a particular client or lawyer has paid for an evaluation. Also, in being an expert, a psychologist is held to the Daubert standard. Based on the case of Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, four criteria have been designed for judges to use in deciding the admissibility of expert testimony. These are (1) the science to be presented must be falsifiable; (2) it has to have undergone peer review; (3) it must have a known rate of error; and (4) it should be generally accepted by the scientific community. An example of a violation of the standard for a psychologist would be the use of an outdated psychological test that is no longer accepted by the field of psychology.


Costanzo, M., & Krauss, D. (2012). Forensic and legal psychology: Psychological science applied to law. New York, NY: Worth.


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