Plessy v. Ferguson Case Analysis Essay

Case analysis essay

Essay Question: The Court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was outside of Congress’ authority under the Fourteenth Amendment. Was the Fourteenth Amendment therefore written inadequately by the Republicans? Or was the Civil Rights Act beyond the scope of the goals of Radical Reconstruction?

The Court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was outside the authority of the congress under the Fourteenth Amendment. This statement can be examined by looking at the provisions of the fourteenth amendment as well as those of the Civil Rights Act 1875. The cases against Stanley, Ryan, Nichols and Singleton were cases brought to the United States Supreme Court based on the first and second sections of the Civil Rights Act. The question was whether the Civil Rights Act was constitutional. The case against Stanley and Nichols was that they denied people of colour accommodation and privileges in a hotel (FindLaw, 2015). Cases against Ryan and Singleton were based on the suggestion that the plaintiffs denied people of color privileges and accommodation in a theater in San Francisco. According to the Civil Rights Act, the enjoyment of public conveyances, inns, theaters, and other places of amusement should not offer a distinction between whites and people of color, or distinction between slaves and non-slaves. All citizens should have the same privileges and accommodation in places of amusement and public conveyances.

The Civil Rights Act 1875 was written by the Radical Republicans in the belief that it would reduce discrimination against blacks in public accommodations. However, Republican John Bingham wrote section 1 of the fourteenth amendment which, as we have noted above, did not empower the upholding of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 as required by law. The court interpreted the Fourteenth appropriately but it failed to empower the Act because it was written inadequately in such a way that it did not reflect policy goals of the republicans as provided in the Civil Rights Act.

The question that the court considered in the cases was whether the congress had constitutional power to make such a law under the fourteenth amendment. The Civil Rights Act seems to provide legislations for citizens; hence upholding it would mean that the congress has provided legislations for the states instead of protecting subjects against unfair state legislations. While the privileges and rights of citizens are secured under the fourteenth amendment, it is clear that they are only secured by means of prohibition against state laws affecting such rights and privileges. Therefore, the congress does not have authority under the fourteenth amendment to legislate in the manner it did in the Civil Rights Act; hence the Act was unconstitutional because it protected individual rights and privileges of subjects rather than dealing with the prohibition of state laws as required under the fourteenth amendment.

The court correctly interpreted the fourteenth amendment but the amendment did not reflect the Republican’s policy goals despite being written by a Republican. Instead of protecting the individual rights and liberties of citizens and providing equal protection to citizens of all colors against discrimination, the fourteenth amendment relied on protection of citizens against state laws. Therefore, where there was no case against any state law, the fourteenth amendment would not provide any protection in court.

In the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, Justice Henry Brown suggested that the fourteenth amendment was not intended to abolish separation on the basis of colour, but rather to bring equality. By putting people of color in separate seats in public conveyance, the plaintiff was acting according to the Louisiana, Act c. 111 of 1890 which allows the separation of people of different colours (FindLaw Legal, 2015). The fourteenth amendment is therefore silent on this separation, and the state laws should prevail over the Civil Rights Act.

Some people may argue that the Act was beyond the scope of radical reconstruction. The radical reconstruction was based on the radical republican’s belief that blacks were entitled the same rights as whites. The Civil Rights Act is not beyond the scope of radical reconstruction because both believe in the enjoyment of equal rights and privileges among black and white American citizens. The Act was just beyond the authority of the congress under the fourteenth amendment. However, the Fourteenth amendment was written in such a way that it did not address the Radical policy goals of the republicans adequately.

References list

FindLaw (2015). Plessy v. Ferguson 163 U.S. 537, No. 210. Accessed February 16, 2015

FindLaw (2015). Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883). Accessed February 16, 2015 from   

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