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Separation of Powers - Conversation Starter 3 - Letter from President Eisenhower to Sen. John Stennis

Letter from President Eisenhower to Senator John Stennis (D-MS), October 7, 1957

Context for the Letter:
In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that segregated schools were "inherently unequal." In 1957, Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas was ordered to desegregate. However, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to prevent nine African American students who enrolled at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas from entering the school on September 3. A Federal District Court ruled against the use of the National Guard at the school. When the students returned to the school, they were met by an angry mob of 1,000 segregationists, and, police removed them for their own protection. President Eisenhower then ordered federal troops to Central High in Little Rock.

Original document in the holdings of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Kansas. The Eisenhower Library is administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Focus Questions:

1. How does President Eisenhower explain the role of the executive branch of government in the conflict?

2. What are his goals in exercising executive power in the situation, and, what do you think of them?

3. Under the separation of powers doctrine, what is the role of the Supreme Court in this conflict and what do you think of it?

4. President Eisenhower did not personally agree with the Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, yet he upheld the desegregation rulings. What do you think his actions demonstrate about the Constitution, and what President Eisenhower thought about his constitutional role as president?

5. How does this situation demonstrate the strengths or weaknesses of the doctrine of separation of powers in action?