Plessy vs. Ferguson

Plessy vs. Ferguson

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Plessy went to court and argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The judge, a Massachusetts lawyer, was John Howard Ferguson. He had previously declared the Separate Car Act "unconstitutional on trains that traveled through several states." However, in regards to the Plessy trial, he stated that Louisiana could regulate railroad companies that only operated within its state. Ferguson found Plessy guilty of refusing to leave the white car.

Plessy decided to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, but that court upheld Ferguson's opinion. Plessy then decided to take his case to the United States Supreme Court. In 1896, The Supreme Court of the United States found Homer Plessy guilty once again. Justice Henry Brown, the speaker for the eight-person majority, wrote: "That [the Separate Car Act] does not conflict with the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery...is too clear for argument...A statute which implies merely a legal distinction between the white and colored races -- a distinction which is founded in the color of the two races and which must always exist so long as white men are distinguished from the other race by color -- has no tendency to destroy the legal equality of the two races...The object of the [Fourteenth Amendment] was undoubtedly 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 unsatisfactory to either."

The one lone dissenter, who argued in favor of Plessy's case, and seemed to be the only one with a real understanding of equality, was Justice John Harlan. He wrote his own speech regarding the case and its decision.

"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...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...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 adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution.

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