Heard vs. Davis

Judge Charles C. Bernstein (1904-1976)

Charles C. Bernstein, the first Jewish judge in Arizona history, achieved a national reputation as a juvenile court judge. He ended barefoot desert marches that were used to punish juvenile offenders at Fort Grant, and served on the Awards Jury for the 1968 Freedom Foundation national and school awards. Judge Bernstein also applied the Kent Decree, a source of basic water law in Arizona, to farmland in Maricopa County, and called the first grand jury in Arizona. He served as chairman of the Charter Review Committee that organized the charter government reform movement in Phoenix.

On May 5, 1954, Judge Bernstein ruled that segregation of African-American students in Phoenix's Wilson Elementary School District was a violation of the 14th Amendment. The case was Heard vs. Davis. At the time, the U.S. Supreme Court was preparing to decide Brown v. Board of Education, and the Supreme Court requested a copy of Judge Bernstein's opinion. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court announced its decision in Brown, that the doctrine of "separate, but equal" was unconstitutional.

Significant Dates in Judge Bernstein's Career

1904    Born, June 2, in St. Louis, Missouri
1929    Received LL.B. from Southwestern University, Los Angeles
1930    Admitted to Arizona Bar
1937-1939    Served as Assistant Attorney General for Arizona
1940 & 1944    Delegate to the Democratic National Convention
1946-1948    Secretary of the Democratic State Central Committee
1949-1958    Appointed and served as Superior Court Judge
1954    Ruled that segregation of black pupils violated the Constitution
1958    Elected to Arizona Supreme Court
1959-1969    Served on Arizona Supreme Court
1976    Died in Phoenix, April 29, at age of 71
1904    Born, June 2, in St. Louis, Missouri


  • Boone, Linda C. "The Days of 'Haze': A Personal Journey Down the Back Road To Brown v. Board of Education." 36 Arizona Attorney 38 (March 2000).
  • Superior Court in Arizona, 1912-1984: A History of the Court in Each County Since Statehood. [Phoenix, AZ]: The Arizona Supreme Court, 1985
  • Treadwell-Rubin, Pamela. "A Blessing of 'Firsts'." 40 Arizona Attorney 6 (January 2004)
  • Zarbin, Earl. The Bench and the Bar: A History of Maricopa County's Legal Professions. Chatsworth, CA: Windsor Publications, 1991 (Photo, p.65)

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