Plessy v. Ferguson


Plaintiff, is a ‘black’ person, who violated a state made law which stated that people of white and black race shall be put in different areas of public transportation w/in the railroads of in-state commerce in the state of LA – plaintiff petitioned for a writ of prohibition, in which, P was asking for a higher court, to strike down upon the ruling of a lower court .

Law at issue – act of general assembly of 1890 – providing that there is a requirement for separate railway carriages for people of different color – simply, if you did not comply with this act, you would be fined and or imprisoned.

Argument by P is that it violates the 13th and 14th amendments. That the segregation stamps the colored race with a stamp of inferiority.


Is the state law unconstitutional that creates separate but equal rights for colored people?




“The enforced separation of the races, as applied to internal commerce of the state, neither abridges the privileges or immunities of the colored man, deprives him of his property w/out due process, nor denies him equal protection of the laws, w/in the meaning of the 14th amendment.

Court reasoning

13th amendment – court quickly dismisses that this has nothing to do with involuntary servitude – precedent – Slaughterhouse cases exemplified the intentions of the act to abolish slavery, nothing more, nothing less.

14th amendment

  • Precedent – slaughterhouse cases – main purpose was to give citizenship to negro’s, to give definition of citizenship of the united states of the states, to protect from hostile legislation of the states and immunities of citizens of the US, as distinguished from those citizens of the states.
  • Intent/plain meaning – states reserve the 10th amendment rights of police power w/in there borders – the object of the 14th amendment was to enforce the absolute equality of the two races before the law, but, in the nature of things, it could not have been intended to abolish distinctions based upon color, or to enforce social, as distinguished from political, equality, or a commingling of the two races upon terms of unsatisfactory to either.
    • By segregation, it cannot be implied that the black race is inferior. It is a reciprocal legislation that gives rise to a states police power, and the 10th amendment.
  • Strauder v. West Virginia – distinguishes between political equality (ability to sit on a jury) versus civil equality.
  • This is NOT interstate commerce, and thus is reserved to internal policing of each states government – the railroad is completely operated w/in the state of LA.
  • Civil rights cases – established that the federal laws for equality based upon color was unconstitutional and void because it directly effected individual peoples of the state, and was not a corrective law, going against an unconstitutional state law.
    • Intention of the 14th amendment was to prohibit states from enacting laws that go against positive rights established, and immunities in the 14th amendment.
    • 14th amendment gave congress corrective legislation, such as might be necessary and proper for counter-acting and redressing the effect of such laws on acts. – congress cannot act w/in the sphere of state legislation.

Due process analysis

“The reply to all this is that every exercise of the police power must be reasonable, and extend only to such laws as are enacted in good faith for the promotion of the public good, and not for annoyance or oppression of a particular class.”

–          Analyzing reasonableness, one must look at established usages, customs, and traditions of the people in promotion of their comfort, and the preservation of the public peace and good order.

–          No different than enacting separate schools for colored people.

Segregation creates inferiority – the legislation is not the area where equality of color will come from, it is out of the legislations hand – if the two races are to have social equality, then natural affinities, appreciation of merits, and voluntary consent of individuals.

***If civil and political rights are to be equal, one cannot be inferior to the other civilly, or politically,…if one race b inferior to the them socially, the constitution of the US cannot put them upon the same plane***


Dissent – completely disagrees with the majority – compares this decision to Dred Scott, in which it will be overturned in the future.

–          How can the federal government abolish slavery, and all the connotations surrounding slavery, but, allow states to create laws that segregate blacks and whites?

–          Even though, supreme court states that these laws are not un-equal, dissent is pointing at the intentions of LA legislature, in that they are fooling no one, that the laws were created to segregate the blacks, from the whites on the bus.

–          Interferes with personal freedoms and liberties (“power of locomotion, of changing situation…unless due course of law”).

–          Where does the legislation stop, when segregating people of different race?

–          Who is this legislation reasonable? Supreme court see’s that if there is a power to enact a statute that ends the matter as to the reasonableness of the motivations behind the enactment of such a law…

***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 pretense of recognizing equality of rights, can have no other result than to render peace impossible…***

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