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When Brown v. Board of Education' prohibited racial segregation in public education, it inaugurated a great debate about equal citizenship and federalism that spanned the second half of the twentieth century. The case reverberates with conflict, with stories about the possibilities - and limits - of constitutional law. This Article explores the relation of constitutional principle and constitutional politics in the ways we talk about the decision's meaning. It shows how convictions about the principle on which Brown rests were forged in conflicts over enforcing Brown, and demonstrates how such conflicts have produced indirection and contradiction in doctrines that enforce the equal protection guarantee. By revisiting early arguments about Brown, we are better able to describe the values and concerns that have shaped the development of equal protection law, and to debate those that might shape its future. At the same time, exploring the impress of constitutional conflict in our constitutional commitments invites us to reflect again on the ways that the Court and the nation make claims on one another - to ask questions about how the Court forges a constitutional principle that can compel the allegiance of the people whose lives it would constrain.
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