Interview with Constance Baker Motley
QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

LET'S JUMP AHEAD TO OLD MISS. JAMES MEREDITH'S ADMISSION TO THE UNIVERSITY—THE LEGAL ISSUE AROUND JAMES MEREDITH'S ADMISSION TO OLD MISS WHY IT TOOK SO LONG.

Judge Constance Baker Motley:

Well, of course the legal issue in the Meredith case was relatively simple: the state of Mississippi of course had a policy of excluding blacks from the university. The court proceeding took a great deal of time, about a year and a half because the state was resisting that ultimate decision which they knew was coming at some time. A great deal of the legal proceedings in the end involved the states resistance to the decision the governors calling upon all state officials to resist. The Governor was cited for contempt of court by the Fifth Circuit. And he finally of course gave in and allowed James Meredith to matriculate at the University. But he had to do so with federal troops at his side and they remained with him through the entire year that he spent, or year and a half, I forgot not, which but all the time that he was there he attended with federal troops at his side—so that the Supreme Court's decision could be enforced. The Supreme Court has no method for enforcing its own decrees as you well know. But the president of the United States under the constitution does have the constitutional duty to uphold the law. And so when state officials say we will not abide by a Supreme Court decision, then it becomes the duty of the president to enforce it with force if necessary. And that's what happened in the University of Mississippi case.