The Civil Rights Cases 1883

The Civil Rights Cases 1883

The Civil Rights Cases 1883
The Civil Rights Cases 1883 image source: prezi.com

The Civil Rights Cases are a group of five lawsuits that were merged in front of the Supreme Court to determine whether the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was constitutional:

United States v. Stanley;

United States v. Ryan;

United States v. Nichols;

United States v. Singleton;

and

Robinson and wife v. Memphis & Charleston R.R. Co.

Facts of the case

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 established equality for all people in the use of public transit, hotels and inns, and theaters and other venues of public entertainment. Despite being privately held, these firms functioned as public utilities, performing public duties for the public good and therefore being subject to government control. A black individual was refused the same amenities as a white person in five distinct incidents, in violation of the 1875 Act.

Question

Is the Civil Rights Act of 1875 a violation of the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which vests in the states or the people all powers not delegated to the federal government?

Conclusion

8–1 DECISION  – MAJORITY OPINION BY JOSEPH P. BRADLEY

Unlike acts of the state, private acts of racial discrimination are private wrongs that the national government is powerless to correct by means of civil rights legislation. By distinguishing between state and private activity, the court concluded that the federal government could not ban discriminatory behavior by private parties under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Sections 1 and 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 were therefore declared unconstitutional because they attempted to regulate the conduct of private persons, which was outside Congress’s power under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Act also exceeded Congress’s jurisdiction under the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibits involuntary servitude but only prohibits the ownership of slaves, not other types of discrimination, according to the Court.

Justice Harlan argued that the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments should be interpreted broadly. He emphasized the public service function that these private lodgings provide. Harlan claimed that the border between government and private activity is frequently blurred, citing the example of private railways performing the government duty of facilitating travel. He noted that limits on the freedom to travel might be in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition on involuntary servitude, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause.

SEE ALSO:

The Civil Rights Act of 1866;

Prohibition of Racial Voter Discrimination (1869);

Plessy v. Ferguson: Separate but Equal (1896);

The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

SOURCES:

The Civil Rights Cases 1883

The Civil Rights Cases

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

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