Transcript of clip of Chief Justice Hassell

Juan Williams: So now I come back to you Chief Justice and say, where was the state supreme court?
Chief Justice Leroy Hassell, Sr.: Interestingly, Albertis Harrison was the attorney general of Virginia, and, if you fast forward to my tenure on the supreme court which began in 1989, I actually served and sat beside Albertis Harrison because he was the only person in the last 150 years who served in all three branches of Virginia’s government, the executive branch as attorney general and governor, state senator, and he also served in the judicial branch as a member of my court. Albertis, or Governor Harrison, filed a lawsuit against Comptroller Day and the lawsuit was called Harrison v. Day and it was a friendly suit and the lawsuit was filed in the supreme court and it was called a suit for mandamus, and basically, the attorney general Albertis Harrison, who later became governor of Virginia, filed a lawsuit and he argued that the constitutional provision in Virginia that mandated the operation of a system of free public schools was predicated upon segregated schools and he relied upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Plessy against Ferguson, and he argued, in the Supreme Court of Virginia, that upon the pronouncement of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the Commonwealth of Virginia no longer had an obligation to operate a system of free public schools because that constitutional provision, so said Attorney General Harrison, was predicated upon a system of segregated schools ….
Juan Williams: Wait, so, in other words, it had been created in the aftermath of Plessy v. Fergeson, which said separate but equal is the law of the land [exactly] and if that was no longer the law then there was no longer any basis for a public school system in the Commonwealth.
CJ Hassell: Yes, but if I could add, his argument, simply stated was, when the Constitution of Virginia in the 1860s enacted…when the General Assembly, well, when the people of Virginia through the General Assembly, enacted a constitutional provision mandating that the Commonwealth of Virginia provide a system of free public schools to all citizens, that constitutional provision, so claimed the attorney general, was predicated upon a system of segregated schools, and once schools were mandated to be integrated, by Brown v. Board of Education, the attorney general argued that that constitutional provision became invalid, and hence, the Commonwealth of Virginia no longer had an obligation to provide a system of free public education, and had the supreme court agreed with the attorney general, and this was a friendly suit, between the comptroller, Day, and Albertis Harrison, had the Supreme Court of Virginia agreed with him, that meant that there would have been no public system of free education in Virginia. The General Assembly could simply eliminate all funding and redirect that funding to private schools.
Juan Williams: And, what was the counter-argument that carried the day?
CJ Hassell: The argument that carried the day, which was made by Day’s lawyers, was that the constitutional provision required a system of free public schools throughout the commonwealth, funded by the state, irrespective of whether the schools were segregated or integrated. And, a system of integrated schools or a system of segregated schools had no legal effect upon the state’s duty to provide, a constitutional duty, to provide a system of free public schools, and the Supreme Court of Virginia, it was a good day for the court; it was a good day for the court because the supreme court during the civil rights era, had not always been kind to black citizens.