Plessy v. Ferguson

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Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), is a landmark United States Supreme Court decision in the jurisprudence of the United States, upholding the constitutionality of state laws requiring racial segregation in private businesses (particularly railroads), under the doctrine of "separate but equal".

The decision was handed down by a vote of 7 to 1 with the majority opinion written by Justice Henry Billings Brown and the dissent written by Justice John Marshall Harlan. Associate Justice David Josiah Brewer was absent at the ruling because of his daughter's sudden death the day before. "Separate but equal" remained standard doctrine in U.S. law until its repudiation in the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education.

After the Supreme Court ruling, the New Orleans Comité des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens), which had brought the suit and arranged for Homer Plessy's arrest in order to challenge Louisiana's segregation law, replied, “We, as freemen, still believe that we were right and our cause is sacred.”[1]

Contents

Background

After the American Civil War (1861–1865), during the period known as Reconstruction, the government was able to provide some protection for the civil rights of the newly freed slaves. But when Reconstruction ended with the Compromise of 1877 and federal troops were withdrawn from the south, southern state governments began passing Jim Crow laws that prohibited blacks from using the same public accommodations as whites.

The Thirteenth Amendment served to abolish slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime. Under the meaning of the Thirteenth Amendment, the term "slavery" implies involuntary servitude or bondage and the ownership by human beings of other human beings as property. According to the Slaughterhouse Cases, the Thirteenth Amendment was intended primarily to abolish slavery as it had been known in the United States, and that it equally forbade involuntary servitude. It was intimated, however, in that case that the Amendment was regarded at the time as insufficient to protect former slaves from certain laws which had been enacted in the Southern States, imposing upon them onerous disabilities and burdens and curtailing their rights in the pursuit of life, liberty and property to such an extent that their freedom was of little value. The Fourteenth Amendment was devised to meet this exigency.

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