Plessy vs. Ferguson

I love the Internet. I had never read the Plessy vs. Ferguson decision before. It does appear to have been written by people from Mars (as this site says). Check out these quotes from the majority opinion. (Reminder: Plessy v. Ferguson said that separate but equal laws were okay. That having ‘coloreds’ sit in a separate area did not violate the constitution. It took over 60 years before someone could sit anywhere they wanted to or go to any school in America. Who was on the right side of history?)

The object of the amendment [the 14th] 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.


…all persons without distinction of age or sex, birth or color, origin or condition, are equal before the law. . . . But, when this great principle comes to be applied to the actual and various conditions of persons in society, it will not warrant the assertion, that men and women are legally clothed with the same civil and political powers, and that children and adults are legally to have the same functions and be subject to the same treatment; but only that the rights of all, as they are settled and regulated by law, are equally entitled to the paternal consideration and protection of the law for their maintenance and security.[This one hurts my brain too much]


[in an incredible demonstration of how different we are today than in 1896, the decision responds to the plaintiffs argument that, if the state can chose where someone sits by reason of their color, it necessarily has the right and ability to segregate on hair color, or sex or place of birth. The response to this argument was as follows]The reply to all this is that every exercise of the police power must be reasonable, and extend only to such laws as are enacted in good faith for the promotion for the public good, and not for the annoyance or oppression of a particular class. [We have seen in the last 100 years that the police power can easily be abused and that many laws were enacted for the oppression of a particular class.]

[The final statement that is now seen to be so completely wrong, at least in practical application, because of Brown vs the Board of Education.]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.

If a logical argument can not be clearly stated, it is usually wrong. Reading this decision reveals a tremendous amount of legalese and twisted logic. Sixty years later, the decision was much clearer and more thoughtful. Brown vs Board of Education was pivotal in demonstrating the converse of the last quote from Plessy. If one race be inferior to the other socially, it CAN NOT be equal to the other civilly or politically. Ever. The Warren court did find a way to accomplish what the majority decision by Brown could not.

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