U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886


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The decisions referred to show the scope of the recent amendments of the Constitution. They also show that it is not within the power of a State to prohibit colored citizens, because of their race, from participating as jurors in the administration of justice. But this argument does not meet the difficulty. Everyone knows that the statute in question had its origin in the purpose not so much to exclude white persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks as to exclude colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white persons.

Railroad corporations of Louisiana did not make discrimination among whites in the matter of accommodation for travelers. The thing to accomplish was, under the guise of giving equal accommodation for whites and blacks, to compel the latter to keep to themselves while traveling in railroad passenger coaches.

No one would be so wanting in candor a to assert the contrary. The fundamental objection, therefore, to the statute is that it interferes with the personal freedom of citizens. If a white man and a black man choose to occupy the same public conveyance on a public highway, it is their right to do so, and no government, proceeding alone on grounds of race, can prevent it without infringing the personal liberty of each.

It is one thing for railroad carriers to furnish, or to be required by law to furnish, equal accommodations for all whom they are under a legal duty to carry. It is quite another thing for government to forbid citizens of the white and black races from traveling in the same public conveyance, and to punish officers of railroad companies for permitting persons of the two races to occupy the same passenger coach. If a State can prescribe, as a rule of civil conduct, that whites and blacks shall not travel as passengers in the same railroad coach, why may it not so regulate the use of the streets of its cities and towns as to compel white citizens to keep on one side of a street and black citizens to keep on the other?

Why may it not, upon like grounds, punish whites and blacks who ride together in streetcars or in open vehicles on a public road. Why may it not require sheriffs to assign whites to one side of a courtroom and blacks to the other? And why may it not also prohibit the commingling of the two races in the galleries of legislative halls or in public assemblages convened for the consideration of the political questions of the day? Further, if this statute of Louisiana is consistent with the personal liberty of citizens, why may not the State require the separation in railroad coaches of native and naturalized citizens of the United States, or of Protestants and Roman Catholics?

The answer given at the argument to these questions was that regulations of the kind they suggest would be unreasonable, and could not, therefore, stand before the law. Is it meant that the determination of questions of legislative power depends upon the inquiry whether the statute whose validity is questioned is, in the judgment of the courts, a reasonable one, taking all the circumstances into consideration? A statute may be unreasonable merely because a sound public policy forbade its enactment. But I do not understand that the courts have anything to do with the policy or expediency of legislation.

A statute may be valid and yet, upon grounds of public policy, may well be characterized as unreasonable. Sedgwick correctly states the rule when he says that, the legislative intention being clearly ascertained, "the courts have no other duty to perform than to execute the legislative will, without any regard to their views as to the wisdom or justice of the particular enactment. There is a dangerous tendency in these latter days to enlarge the functions of the courts by means of judicial interference with the will of the people as expressed by the legislature.

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Our institutions have the distinguishing characteristic that the three departments of government are coordinate and separate. Each must keep within the limits defined by the Constitution. And the courts best discharge their duty by executing the will of the lawmaking power, constitutionally expressed, leaving the results of legislation to be dealt with by the people through their representatives. Statutes must always have a reasonable construction. Sometimes they are to be construed strictly; sometimes liberally, in order to carry out the legislative.

But however construed, the intent of the legislature is to be respected, if the particular statute in question is valid, although the courts, looking at the public interests, may conceive the statute to be both unreasonable and impolitic. If the power exists to enact a statute, that ends the matter so far as the courts are concerned.

The adjudged cases in which statutes have been held to be void because unreasonable are those in which the means employed by the legislature were not at all germane to the end to which the legislature was competent. The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power.

So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.

In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a State to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race.

In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case. It was adjudged in that case that the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country and sold as slaves were not included nor intended to be included under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and could not claim any of the rights and privileges which that instrument provided for and secured to citizens of the United States; that, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, they were "considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant.

The recent amendments of the Constitution, it was supposed, had eradicated these principles from our institutions. But it seems that we have yet, in some of the States, a dominant race -- a superior class of citizens, which assumes to regulate the enjoyment of civil rights, common to all citizens, upon the basis of race.

The present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficent purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution, by one of which the blacks of this country were made citizens of the United States and of the States in which they respectively reside, and whose privileges and immunities, as citizens, the States are forbidden to abridge.

Sixty millions of whites are in no danger from the presence here of eight millions of blacks. The destinies of the two races in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens.

That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana. The sure guarantee of the peace and security of each race is the clear, distinct, unconditional recognition by our governments, National and State, of every right that inheres in civil freedom, and of the equality before the law of all citizens of the United States, without regard to race. State enactments regulating the enjoyment of civil rights upon the basis of race, and cunningly devised to defeat legitimate results of the. This question is not met by the suggestion that social equality cannot exist between the white and black races in this country.

That argument, if it can be properly regarded as one, is scarcely worthy of consideration, for social equality no more exists between two races when traveling in a passenger coach or a public highway than when members of the same races sit by each other in a street car or in the jury box, or stand or sit with each other in a political assembly, or when they use in common the street of a city or town, or when they are in the same room for the purpose of having their names placed on the registry of voters, or when they approach the ballot box in order to exercise the high privilege of voting.

There is a race so different from our own that we do not permit those belonging to it to become citizens of the United States. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But, by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race in Louisiana, many of whom, perhaps, risked their lives for the preservation of the Union, who are entitled, by law, to participate in the political control of the State and nation, who are not excluded, by law or by reason of their race, from public stations of any kind, and who have all the legal rights that belong to white citizens, are yet declared to be criminals, liable to imprisonment, if they ride in a public coach occupied by citizens of the white race.

It is scarcely just to say that a colored citizen should not object to occupying a public coach assigned to his own race. He does not object, nor, perhaps, would he object to separate coaches for his race if his rights under the law were recognized. But he objecting, and ought never to cease objecting, to the proposition that citizens of the white and black race can be adjudged criminals because they sit, or claim the right to sit, in the same public coach on a public highway.

Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896)

The arbitrary separation of citizens on the basis of race while they are on a public highway is a badge of servitude wholly inconsistent with the civil freedom and the equality before the law established by the Constitution. It cannot be justified upon any legal grounds. If evils will result from the commingling of the two races upon public highways established for the benefit of all, they will be infinitely less than those that will surely come from state legislation regulating the enjoyment of civil rights upon the basis of race.

We boast of the freedom enjoyed by our people above all other peoples. But it is difficult to reconcile that boast with a state of the law which, practically, puts the brand of servitude and degradation upon a large class of our fellow citizens, our equals before the law. The thin disguise of "equal" accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead anyone, nor atone for the wrong this day done.

The result of the whole matter is that, while this court has frequently adjudged, and at the present term has recognized the doctrine, that a State cannot, consistently with the Constitution of the United States, prevent white and black citizens, having the required qualifications for jury service, from sitting in the same jury box, it is now solemnly held that a State may prohibit white and black citizens from sitting in the same passenger coach on a public highway, or may require that they be separated by a "partition," when in the same passenger coach.

May it not now be reasonably expected that astute men of the dominant race, who affect to be disturbed at the possibility that the integrity of the white race may be corrupted, or that its supremacy will be imperiled, by contact on public highways with black people, will endeavor to procure statutes requiring white and black jurors to be separated in the jury box by a "partition," and that, upon retiring from the courtroom to consult as to their verdict, such partition, if it be a moveable one, shall be taken to their consultation room and set up in such way as to prevent black jurors from coming too close to their brother jurors of the white race.

If the "partition" used in the courtroom happens to be stationary, provision could be made for screens with openings through. I cannot see but that, according to the principles this day announced, such state legislation, although conceived in hostility to, and enacted for the purpose of humiliating, citizens of the United States of a particular race, would be held to be consistent with the Constitution. I do not deem it necessary to review the decisions of state courts to which reference was made in argument. Some, and the most important, of them are wholly inapplicable because rendered prior to the adoption of the last amendments of the Constitution, when colored people had very few rights which the dominant race felt obliged to respect.

Others were made at a time when public opinion in many localities was dominated by the institution of slavery, when it would not have been safe to do justice to the black man, and when, so far as the rights of blacks were concerned, race prejudice was, practically, the supreme law of the land. Those decisions cannot be guides in the era introduced by the recent amendments of the supreme law, which established universal civil freedom, gave citizenship to all born or naturalized in the United States and residing here, obliterated the race line from our systems of governments, National and State, and placed our free institutions upon the broad and sure foundation of the equality of all men before the law.

I am of opinion that the statute of Louisiana is inconsistent with the personal liberty of citizens, white and black, in that State, and hostile to both the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the United States. If laws of like character should be enacted in the several States of the Union, the effect would be in the highest degree mischievous. Slavery, as an institution tolerated by law would, it is true, have disappeared from our country, but there would remain a power in the States, by sinister legislation, to interfere with the full enjoyment of the blessings of freedom to regulate civil rights, common to all citizens, upon the basis of race, and to place in a condition of legal inferiority a large body of American citizens now constituting a part of the political community called the.

People of the United States, for whom and by whom, through representatives, our government is administered. Such a system is inconsistent with the guarantee given by the Constitution to each State of a republican form of government, and may be stricken down by Congressional action, or by the courts in the discharge of their solemn duty to maintain the supreme law of the land, anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

For the reasons stated, I am constrained to withhold my assent from the opinion and judgment of the majority. Ex parte Plessy, 45 La. Provided, That this section shall not be construed to apply to street railroads. So, too, in the Civil Rights Cases, U. City of Boston, 5 Cush. McCann, 21 Ohio St. Flood, 48 California 36; Bertonneau v. School Directors, 3 Woods ; People v. Carter, 48 Indiana ; Dawson v. Lee, 3 Kentucky Gibson, 36 Indiana West Virginia, U. De Cuir, 95 U. In the Civil Rights Case, U. Justice Bradley observed that the Fourteenth Amendment.

State, 66 Mississippi , and affirmed by this court in U. Benson, 85 Tennessee ; The Sue, 22 Fed. Hudson, 43 Ohio St. Baker, 38 Wisconsin 71; Monroe v. Collins, 17 Ohio St. Riley, 1 California Chaver, 5 Jones [N. State, 4 Ohio ; Monroe v. Dean, 4 Michigan ; Jones v. Commonwealth, 80 Virginia By the Louisiana statute the validity of which is here involved, all railway companies other than street railroad companies carrying passengers in that State are required to have separate but equal accommodations for white and colored persons.

Western Railroad Corporation, 4 Met. But that amendment having been found inadequate to the protection of the rights of those who had been in slavery, it was followed by the Fourteenth Amendment, which added greatly to the dignity and glory of American citizenship and to the security of personal liberty by declaring that. These two amendments, if enforced according to their true intent and meaning, will protect all the civil rights that pertain to freedom and citizenship. Finally, and to the end that no citizen should be denied, on account of his race, the privilege of participating in the political control of his country, it as declared by the Fifteenth Amendment that.

They had, as this court has said, a common purpose, namely to secure. At the present term, referring to the previous adjudications, this court declared that. Sedgwick correctly states the rule when he says that, the legislative intention being clearly ascertained,. It was adjudged in that case that the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country and sold as slaves were not included nor intended to be included under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and could not claim any of the rights and privileges which that instrument provided for and secured to citizens of the United States; that, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, they were.

Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. Justia makes no guarantees or warranties that the annotations are accurate or reflect the current state of law, and no annotation is intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Contacting Justia or any attorney through this site, via web form, email, or otherwise, does not create an attorney-client relationship. Homer Plessy, a free man who was seven-eighths white and one-eighth of African descent, agreed to participate in a test case to challenge a Louisiana law known as the Separate Car Act.

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This law required that railroads provide separate cars and other accommodations for whites and African-Americans. The Comite des Citoyens Committee of Citizens was a group of New Orleans residents from a variety of ethnic backgrounds that sought to repeal this law. They asked Plessy, who was technically African-American under Louisiana law, to sit in a whites-only car. He bought a first-class ticket and boarded the whites-only car of the East Louisiana Railroad in a train for Covington. The railroad cooperated in the test case because it viewed the law as imposing unnecessary additional costs through the purchase of more railroad cars.

It knew about the intention to challenge the law, and the Committee of Citizens also enlisted a private detective to detain Plessy on the train so that he could be charged under the Separate Car Act.

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When Plessy was told to vacate the whites-only car and sit in the African-American car, he refused and was arrested by the detective. The train was stopped so that he could be removed, and a trial proceeded. Their theory failed, and the judge found that Louisiana could enforce this law insofar as it affected railroads within its boundaries. Plessy was convicted and fined. The separate-but-equal reasoning was thoroughly discredited even before it was officially overruled by Brown v. Justice Harlan's dissent is the most notable element of Plessy, although its rhetoric is less progressive upon closer analysis than some suggest.

Supreme Court Plessy v. Ferguson, judge of the criminal District Court for the parish of Orleans, and setting forth in substance the following facts: But, notwithstanding this, petitioner was required by the conductor, under penalty of ejection from said train and imprisonment, to vacate said coach and occupy another seat in a coach assigned by said company for persons not of the white race, and for no other reason than that petitioner was of the colored race; that, upon petitioner's refusal to comply with such order, he was, with the aid of a police officer, forcibly ejected from said coach and hurried off to and imprisoned in the parish jail of [] New Orleans, and there held to answer a charge made by such officer to the effect that he was guilty of having criminally violated an act of the General Assembly of the State, approved July 10, , in such case made and provided.

To this order the respondent made answer, transmitting a certified copy of the proceedings, asserting the constitutionality of the law, and averring that, instead of pleading or admitting that he belonged to the colored race, the said Plessy declined and refused, either by pleading or otherwise, to admit [] that he was in any sense or in any proportion a colored man. The petition for the writ of prohibition averred that petitioner was seven-eighths Caucasian and one eighth African blood; that the mixture of colored blood was not discernible in him, and that he was entitled to every right, privilege and immunity secured to citizens of the United States of the white race; and that, upon such theory, he took possession of a vacant seat in a coach where passengers of the white race were accommodated, and was ordered by the conductor to vacate [] said coach and take a seat in another assigned to persons of the colored race, and, having refused to comply with such demand, he was forcibly ejected with the aid of a police officer, and imprisoned in the parish jail to answer a charge of having violated the above act.

So, where the laws of a particular locality or the charter of a particular railway corporation has provided that no person shall be excluded from the cars on account of [] color, we have held that this meant that persons of color should travel in the same car as white ones, and that the enactment was not satisfied by the company's providing cars assigned exclusively to people of color, though they were as good as those which they assigned exclusively to white persons. Justice Bradley observed that the Fourteenth Amendment "does not invest Congress with power to legislate upon subjects that are within the [] domain of state legislation, but to provide modes of relief against state legislation or state action of the kind referred to.

No question arises under this section as to the power of the State to separate in different compartments interstate passengers [] or affect in any manner the privileges and rights of such passengers. While we think the enforced separation of the races, as applied to the internal commerce of the State, neither abridges the privileges or immunities of the colored man, deprives him of his property without due process of law, nor denies him the equal protection of the laws within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, we are not prepared to say that the conductor, in assigning passengers to the coaches according to their race, does not act at his peril, or that the provision of the second section of the act that denies to the passenger compensation [] in damages for a refusal to receive him into the coach in which he properly belongs is a valid exercise of the legislative power.

In this connection, it is also suggested by the learned counsel for the plaintiff in error that the same argument that will justify the state legislature in requiring railways to provide separate accommodations for the two races will also authorize them to require separate cars to be provided for people whose hair is of a certain color, or who are aliens, or who belong to certain nationalities, or to enact laws requiring colored people to walk upon one side of the street and white people upon the other, or requiring white men's houses to be painted white and colored men's black, or their vehicles or business signs to be of different colors, upon the theory that one side [] of the street is as good as the other, or that a house or vehicle of one color is as good as one of another color.

Gauged by this standard, we cannot say that a law which authorizes or even requires the separation of the two races in public conveyances [] is unreasonable, or more obnoxious to the Fourteenth Amendment than the acts of Congress requiring separate schools for colored children in the District of Columbia, the constitutionality of which does not seem to have been questioned, or the corresponding acts of state legislatures.

If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly [] or politically. The judgment of the court below is, therefore, Affirmed. If a passenger insists upon going into a coach or compartment not set apart for persons of his race, [] he is subject to be fined or to be imprisoned in the parish jail. Justice Strong, delivering the judgment of [] this court in Olcott v.

But I deny that any legislative body or judicial tribunal may have regard to the [] race of citizens when the civil rights of those citizens are involved. Finally, and to the end that no citizen should be denied, on account of his race, the privilege of participating in the political control of his country, it as declared by the Fifteenth Amendment that "the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.

Plessy v. Ferguson

They had, as this court has said, a common purpose, namely to secure "to a race recently emancipated, a race that through [] many generations have been held in slavery, all the civil rights that the superior race enjoy. It as said in argument that the statute of Louisiana does [] not discriminate against either race, but prescribes a rule applicable alike to white and colored citizens.


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Why may it not, upon like grounds, punish whites and blacks who ride together in streetcars or in open vehicles on a public road [] or street? Sometimes they are to be construed strictly; sometimes liberally, in order to carry out the legislative [] will. It was adjudged in that case that the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country and sold as slaves were not included nor intended to be included under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and could not claim any of the rights and privileges which that instrument provided for and secured to citizens of the United States; that, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, they were "considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant [] race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant them.

State enactments regulating the enjoyment of civil rights upon the basis of race, and cunningly devised to defeat legitimate results of the [] war under the pretence of recognizing equality of rights, can have no other result than to render permanent peace impossible and to keep alive a conflict of races the continuance of which must do harm to all concerned. If the "partition" used in the courtroom happens to be stationary, provision could be made for screens with openings through [] which jurors of the two races could confer as to their verdict without coming into personal contact with each other.

Slavery, as an institution tolerated by law would, it is true, have disappeared from our country, but there would remain a power in the States, by sinister legislation, to interfere with the full enjoyment of the blessings of freedom to regulate civil rights, common to all citizens, upon the basis of race, and to place in a condition of legal inferiority a large body of American citizens now constituting a part of the political community called the [] People of the United States, for whom and by whom, through representatives, our government is administered.

But, notwithstanding this, petitioner was required by the conductor, under penalty of ejection from said train and imprisonment, to vacate said coach and occupy another seat in a coach assigned by said company for persons not of the white race, and for no other reason than that petitioner was of the colored race; that, upon petitioner's refusal to comply with such order, he was, with the aid of a police officer, forcibly ejected from said coach and hurried off to and imprisoned in the parish jail of Page U.

To this order the respondent made answer, transmitting a certified copy of the proceedings, asserting the constitutionality of the law, and averring that, instead of pleading or admitting that he belonged to the colored race, the said Plessy declined and refused, either by pleading or otherwise, to admit Page U. The petition for the writ of prohibition averred that petitioner was seven-eighths Caucasian and one eighth African blood; that the mixture of colored blood was not discernible in him, and that he was entitled to every right, privilege and immunity secured to citizens of the United States of the white race; and that, upon such theory, he took possession of a vacant seat in a coach where passengers of the white race were accommodated, and was ordered by the conductor to vacate Page U.

So, where the laws of a particular locality or the charter of a particular railway corporation has provided that no person shall be excluded from the cars on account of Page U. Justice Bradley observed that the Fourteenth Amendment "does not invest Congress with power to legislate upon subjects that are within the Page U. No question arises under this section as to the power of the State to separate in different compartments interstate passengers Page U.

While we think the enforced separation of the races, as applied to the internal commerce of the State, neither abridges the privileges or immunities of the colored man, deprives him of his property without due process of law, nor denies him the equal protection of the laws within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, we are not prepared to say that the conductor, in assigning passengers to the coaches according to their race, does not act at his peril, or that the provision of the second section of the act that denies to the passenger compensation Page U. In this connection, it is also suggested by the learned counsel for the plaintiff in error that the same argument that will justify the state legislature in requiring railways to provide separate accommodations for the two races will also authorize them to require separate cars to be provided for people whose hair is of a certain color, or who are aliens, or who belong to certain nationalities, or to enact laws requiring colored people to walk upon one side of the street and white people upon the other, or requiring white men's houses to be painted white and colored men's black, or their vehicles or business signs to be of different colors, upon the theory that one side Page U.

Gauged by this standard, we cannot say that a law which authorizes or even requires the separation of the two races in public conveyances Page U. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly Page U. If a passenger insists upon going into a coach or compartment not set apart for persons of his race, Page U. Justice Strong, delivering the judgment of Page U. But I deny that any legislative body or judicial tribunal may have regard to the Page U. They had, as this court has said, a common purpose, namely to secure "to a race recently emancipated, a race that through Page U.

It as said in argument that the statute of Louisiana does Page U. Why may it not, upon like grounds, punish whites and blacks who ride together in streetcars or in open vehicles on a public road Page U. Sometimes they are to be construed strictly; sometimes liberally, in order to carry out the legislative Page U. It was adjudged in that case that the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country and sold as slaves were not included nor intended to be included under the word "citizens" in the Constitution, and could not claim any of the rights and privileges which that instrument provided for and secured to citizens of the United States; that, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, they were "considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant Page U.

State enactments regulating the enjoyment of civil rights upon the basis of race, and cunningly devised to defeat legitimate results of the Page U. If the "partition" used in the courtroom happens to be stationary, provision could be made for screens with openings through Page U. Plessy immediately sought a writ of prohibition. In speaking for the court's decision that Ferguson's judgment did not violate the 14th Amendment, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Charles Fenner cited a number of precedents, including two key cases from Northern states. The Massachusetts Supreme Court had ruled in — before the 14th amendment — that segregated schools were constitutional.

In answering the charge that segregation perpetuated race prejudice, the Massachusetts court famously stated: In a Pennsylvania law mandating separate railcars for different races the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated: It is simply to say that following the order of Divine Providence, human authority ought not to compel these widely separated races to intermix. One was signed by Albion W. Walker and the other by Samuel F. Phillips and his legal partner F.

Oral arguments were held before the Supreme Court on April 13, Cunningham was a staunch supporter of white supremacy , who according to a laudatory obituary "worked so effectively [during Reconstruction] in restoring white supremacy in politics that he finally was arrested, with fifty-one other men of that community, and tried by federal officials. On May 18, , in a seven-to-one decision written by Henry Billings Brown [2] the Court rejected Plessy's arguments.

First, the Court dismissed any claim that the Louisiana law violated the Thirteenth Amendment , which, in the majority's opinion, did no more than ensure that black Americans had the basic level of legal equality that was necessary to abolish slavery. Next, the majority considered whether the law violated the Fourteenth Amendment 's Equal Protection Clause , which reads: The Court reasoned that laws requiring racial separation were within the police power of U. States, and that such laws did not necessarily imply that a particular race was inferior.

Justice John Marshall Harlan dissented, and predicted the court's decision would become as infamous as Dred Scott v. Justice Harlan was from Kentucky , which was a border state during the Civil War. Harlan said, in part:. The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens.

There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law.

Plessy v. Ferguson | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a state to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race. In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case.

Plessy legitimized the state laws establishing racial segregation in the South and provided an impetus for further segregation laws. It also legitimized laws in the North requiring racial segregation as in the Boston school segregation case noted by Justice Brown in his majority opinion. The prospect of greater state influence in matters of race worried numerous advocates of civil equality, including Supreme Court Justice John Harlan, who wrote in his Plessy dissent, "we shall enter upon an era of constitutional law, when the rights of freedom and American citizenship cannot receive from the nation that efficient protection which heretofore was unhesitatingly accorded to slavery and the rights of the master.

Some commentators, such as Gabriel J. Chin [29] and Eric Maltz , [30] have viewed Harlan's Plessy dissent in a more critical light, and suggested it be viewed in context with his other decisions. Persons belonging to it are, with few exceptions, absolutely excluded from our country. I allude to the Chinese race. But, by the statute in question, a Chinaman can ride in the same passenger coach with white citizens of the United States, while citizens of the black race in Louisiana, many of whom, perhaps, risked their lives for the preservation of the Union The effect of the Plessy ruling was immediate; there were already significant differences in funding for the segregated school system, which continued into the 20th century; states consistently underfunded black schools, providing them with substandard buildings, textbooks, and supplies.

States which had successfully integrated elements of their society abruptly adopted oppressive legislation that erased reconstruction era efforts. Ferguson were affirmed in Lum v. Rice , which upheld the right of a Mississippi public school for white children to exclude a Chinese American girl. Despite the laws enforcing compulsory education , and the lack of public schools for Chinese children in Lum's area, the Supreme Court ruled that she had the choice to attend a private school.

Some established de jure segregated educational facilities, separate public institutions such as hotels and restaurants, separate beaches among other public facilities, and restrictions on interracial marriage, but in other cases segregation in the North was related to unstated practices and operated on a de facto basis, although not by law, among numerous other facets of daily life. The separate facilities and institutions accorded to the African-American community were consistently inferior [39] to those provided to the White community.

This contradicted the vague declaration of "separate but equal" institutions issued after the Plessy decision. From to , state legislatures in the South disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites through rejecting them for voter registration and voting: African-American community leaders, who had achieved brief political success during the Reconstruction era and even into the s, lost gains made when their voters were excluded from the political system. Historian Rogers Smith noted on the subject that "lawmakers frequently admitted, indeed boasted, that such measures as complex registration rules, literacy and property tests, poll taxes , white primaries , and grandfather clauses were designed to produce an electorate confined to a white race that declared itself supreme", notably rejecting the 14th and 15th Amendments to the American Constitution.

In the case of Brown v. Board of Education , the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation in public education was unconstitutional. Ferguson was never overturned by the Supreme Court. In , Keith Plessy and Phoebe Ferguson, descendants of participants on both sides of the Supreme Court case, announced establishing the Plessy and Ferguson Foundation for Education and Reconciliation.

The foundation will work to create new ways to teach the history of civil rights through film, art, and public programs designed to create understanding of this historic case and its effect on the American conscience. Historians gathered with the Plessy and Ferguson families and a member of the Louisiana Supreme Court in New Orleans on February 12, , to unveil a historical marker to memorialize the case.

It is Plessy and Ferguson", said Keith Plessy in a radio interview. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This is the latest accepted revision , reviewed on 18 December For similar names, see Plessis. United States Supreme Court case. Chemerinsky , p. Encyclopedia of American Studies. Retrieved December 22, The Fight Against Legal Segregation. Archived from the original on July 15, Retrieved May 1, Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved October 4, Retrieved October 5, From Slavery to the White House.

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Journal of American Studies. City of Boston , 59 Mass. The Triumph of Capitalism New York: Random House, , pp. Archived from the original on October 6, Retrieved October 2, Brands "American Colossus" New York: The Atlantic Monthly , July American Nineteenth Century History 5, no.

New York Times —Current File. Justice Harlan on the Chinese Cases". Ferguson — U. Archived from the original Flash on February 21, From Jim Crow to Civil Rights: Retrieved February 1, Encyclopedia of African American Education. Southern Quarterly 46, no. Studies in American Political Development 13, no.

Retrieved July 22, Unveiling the long-awaited historical marker for the arrest site of Homer Plessy".

When Did The Plessy V Ferguson Case Begin?

New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. Archived from the original on February 21, Freedom, Antiracism, and Citizenship". University of Illinois Law Review 4: Amar, Akhil Reed Ferguson and the Anti-Canon". The Case Against the Supreme Court. Principles and Policies 5th ed. Justice Harlan and the Chinese Cases". Medley, Keith Weldon Review Nowak, John E.

Constitutional Law 8th ed. A Brief History with Documents. Civil rights movement s and s. Board of Education Bolling v. Belton White America, Inc. Virginia Rock Hill sit-ins Robert F. Martin Luther King Sr. Moore Harriette Moore Harry T. Philip Randolph George Raymond Jr. Ferguson Separate but equal Buchanan v.

U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886 U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886
U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886 U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886
U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886 U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886
U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886 U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886
U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886 U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886
U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886 U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886
U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886 U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886

Related U.S. Supreme Court Opinion: 163 U.S. 537 - PLESSY v. FERGUSON. - Decided: May 18, 1886



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