The Neutrality Principle: The Hidden Yet Powerful Legal Axiom at Work in Brown versus Board of Education

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Perhaps the question most animating debate among constitutional historians involves two vilified Supreme Court decisions-Plessy v. Ferguson and Lochner v. New York. What strange logic allowed the United States Supreme Court within a nine-year period to sustain state interference with private rights of association (typified by its decision in Plessy) and strike down state regulation of economic associative rights (typified by its decision in Lochner)? In sustaining state regulation intended to separate the races, the Court appeared to defend states' concern for public welfare over a private associative right. However, in striking down state legislation regulating working conditions by imposing maximum work hour and minimum wage requirements, the Court appeared to do exactly the opposite. It defended an economic associative right over the states' concerns for public health and welfare.