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Racial Segregation: Plessy v. Ferguson Case Study

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Updated: Sep 15th, 2022

Summary of facts

The case is about Plessy against the state law of Louisiana on racial segregation and rights. In 1890, the Louisiana legislature passed a law on racial rights. The law required all railroads to separate passengers on account of race. This meant that there were designated seats for different races. In case there was only one passenger car on the train, there was the use of curtains or some partitions. Homer Adolph Plessy intentionally broke the law to initiate a case against the Louisiana state law. According to the State law, he was guilty. Ferguson (the trial court judge) issued a writ on the proceedings for a criminal violation against the Louisiana State law. In return, Plessy issued a petition to the State Supreme Court against those proceedings.

However, he was convicted and fined by the State Supreme Court. The case circulates the 13th amendment and the 14th amendment, which gave an Equal Protection on the races. From Plessy’s point of view, segregation of facilities violated the Equal Protection clause, and it was unconstitutional. On the other hand, the State Law of Louisiana had a right to protect public safety, as of any other State right. In addition, there is no reasonable doubt why the State Legislature should not enact Public segregation statutes. The Supreme Court (presided by Justice Henry B. Brown of Michigan) noted that the Louisiana State Law did not violate any of the 13th or 14th amendments. However, the legislature cannot change the attitude of the public. It concluded that, as long as the facilities were equal, segregation was legal and constitutional.

The legal issue that lay before the court was regarding the constitutional stand on the Louisiana law. Did the Louisiana State law violate the Equal Protection clause and was it unconstitutional?

The court’s ruling

The ruling of the Supreme Court was that segregation was constitutional and legal as long as the ‘facilities were equal’.

Summary

Justice Henry B. Brown stated that there was no violation of either the 13th or 14th amendments about the Louisiana law. However, he noted that legislation is powerless to remove racial instincts and clear out the distinctions on account of the physical differences. This means that the Legislation cannot change the attitude of the public. The 14th amendment gives equal rights to all races both civilly and politically. If so, there is no inferiority of any race. From a social perspective, if one race is inferior to the other, the constitution of the United States cannot put them in one place. On that matter, the Court saw the Louisiana law as a law enacted to promote the public good.

Comments

The Plessy v. Ferguson case did not quite change the racial outlook but was a step in realizing the equity of all races, constitutionally. After this case, there have been other cases that pushed forward to abolish segregation in the United States. Justice John Marshall Harlan once stated that the constitution is color blind and does not tolerate class among citizens. The constitution cannot make a rule based on the physical appearance of a person. The fight against segregation has seen 60 years since the case of Plessy v. Ferguson.

The law of the land is purposely meant to protect the rights of all individuals. The law of the land confines all citizens to its rules and thus should be followed. The race was and remained a sensitive matter to all. The 14th amendment is a clear law that tries to provide equity in rights to all citizens regardless of their physical appearance. The individual’s attitude towards issues such as race is quite different from the law. The 14th amendment put this issue into consideration and still tries to provide the rule of equality to all the citizens.

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IvyPanda. "Racial Segregation: Plessy v. Ferguson." September 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/racial-segregation-plessy-v-ferguson/.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "Racial Segregation: Plessy v. Ferguson." September 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/racial-segregation-plessy-v-ferguson/.

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IvyPanda. (2022) 'Racial Segregation: Plessy v. Ferguson'. 15 September.

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