Anonymous asked in Education & ReferenceOther - Education · 1 decade ago

what was the basis if the decision in the Plessey v. Ferguson case?

2 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
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    In short, a majority of the members of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896 did not regard de jure segregation either to be illegal or unconscionable. They remained mired in a legal and social belief system that regarded Whites to be more equal than Blacks. They believed that separation of the races was instinctive and could not be changed by laws.

    In more detail:

    Summary from "Plessy v. Ferguson," by Thomas Zimmerman:

    In "Plessy v. Ferguson" (1896), the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a Louisiana law mandating separate but equal accommodations for blacks and whites on intrastate railroads was constitutional. This decision provided the legal foundation to justify many other actions by state and local governments to socially separate blacks and whites. "Plessy v. Ferguson" was overturned in 1954 by "Brown v. Board of Education."

    By the time "Plessy v. Ferguson" arrived at the Supreme Court, it was argued that Plessy was denied his equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and that Louisiana had violated the Thirteenth Amendment by perpetuating the essential features of slavery.

    A seven Justice majority was unconvinced by these arguments, and ruled that neither the Thirteenth nor Fourteenth Amendment was applicable in this case. The majority opinion delivered by Justice Henry Billings Brown, attacked the Thirteenth Amendment claims by distinguishing between political and social equality. According to this distinction, blacks and whites were politically equal (in the sense that they had the same political rights) but socially unequal (blacks were not as socially advanced as whites).

    The majority attacked the Fourteenth Amendment claims by arguing that enforced separation does not "stamp" blacks with the badge of inferiority, because both blacks and whites were treated equally under the law--in the sense that whites were forbidden to sit in a railroad car designated for blacks.

    In his famous dissenting opinion, John Marshall Harlan attacked the constitutionality of the Louisiana law and argued that while the law may appear to treat blacks and whites equally, "every one 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."

    From "Key Excerpts from the Majority Opinion"

    "Speaking for a seven-person majority, Justice Henry Brown delivered the opinion of the court.

    This case turns upon the constitutionality of an act of the general assembly of the state of Louisiana, passed in 1890, providing for separate railway carriages for the white and colored races. . .

    The constitutionality of this act is attacked upon the ground that it conflicts both with the thirteenth amendment of the Constitution, abolishing slavery, and the fourteenth amendment, which prohibits certain restrictive legislation on the part of the states.

    1. That it does not conflict with the thirteenth amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, is too clear for argument. . .

    Indeed, we do not understand that the thirteenth amendment is strenuously relied upon by the plaintiff. . .

    2. . . .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. Laws permitting, and even requiring, their separation in places where they are liable to be brought into contact do not necessarily imply the inferiority of either race to the other, and have been generally, if not universally, recognized as within the competency of the state legislatures in the exercise of their police power. . .

    So far, then, as a conflict with the fourteenth amendment is concerned, the case reduces itself to the question whether the statute of Louisiana is a reasonable regulation, and with respect to this there must necessarily be a large discretion on the part of the legislature. In determining the question of reasonableness, it is at liberty to act with reference to the established usages, customs, and traditions of the people, and with a view to the promotion of their comfort, and the preservation of the public peace and good order. 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...

    We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it. . . The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the ***** except by an enforced commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition. If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual appreciation of each other's merits and a voluntary consent of individuals... Legislation is powerless to eradicate racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based upon physical differences, and the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating the difficulties of the present situation. If the civil and political rights of both races be equal one cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them upon the same plane."

    From "The Impact of the Case: 'Separate But Equal' "

    "Although not specifically written in the decision, Plessy set the precedent that 'separate' facilities for blacks and whites were constitutional as long as they were 'equal.' The 'separate but equal' doctrine was quickly extended to cover many areas of public life, such as restaurants, theaters, restrooms, and public schools.

    The Supreme Court of the United States determined that if legislation makes distinctions based on race, but does not deprive anyone of rights or privileges, it is constitutional. The Court seemed to believe that the common practice of separation was an inconvenience, not something that abridged the rights of African Americans. The Court also presumed that legislation was powerless to do away with racial instincts or to abolish distinctions based on physical differences."

    For "Key Excerpts from the Dissenting Opinion" please see:

    To read the full text of the Majority Opinion please see:

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  • 4 years ago

    interior the Plessy Vs. Ferguson case it became governed "seperate yet equivalent" became proper. Segregation became ok, yet everyone seems to be to be dealt with equivalent. Many (especial southerners) took this as permission to be Racist, Prejudice, and to discriminate. Plessy gained the case in sum. Later in time, a case Brown Vs the school Board Topeka Kansas, Brown gained the case and public colleges have been desegregated. This extra approximately a spark in African American equality theory. Many Leaders got here after this, which includes Rosa Parks and the notorious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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