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Plessy v Ferguson

[163 U.S. 567, 1896]
TOPIC: Equal Protection Clause

NOTES: (if applicable)
Plessy is only of historical importance today as it was
effectively and expressly overruled by the later ruling in the
case of Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
In Brown, 58 years later, the Court ruled that separate could
never be considered equal.

FACTS: (chronological order)
Plessy (D) tried to sit in a railroad car designated as being for the use of whites only, and was therefore arrested.
Plessy(D) was a 7/8 white man with white skin. He tried to take a seat in an all-white railroad car and was refused. When
he resisted eviction, he was arrested under the state law which provided that separate but equal railroad accommodation for
the different races. He appealed his imprisonment on the grounds that this segregation was a form of discrimination against
the black race, marking them as inferior. It violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, which abolished slavery in
the U.S. and prohibited the adoption of any statute by any state which should infringe upon the rights of U.S. citizens,
respectively. The court declared him guilty on the grounds that the law provided for a reasonable exercise of police power
by the state to promote a situation based upon the custom, usage and tradition of the people of that state.
ISSUE(S): Does the state have the right to segregate races in separate but equal facilities?
HELD (Brown, J.) Yes. The state has the right to keep the races apart in separate but equal facilities under a valid exercise
of its governmental authority to restrict the rights of private persons.
Such restriction is valid if required to preserve order and public peace in the name of age-old tradition and custom. Such
decisions have always been declared to be right. The act of segregation is not a mark of slavery, or of inferiority, despite
the connotations attached to the custom by blacks, including Plessy (D). It violates no statute. The conviction of Plessy is
It is reasonable to enforce segregation of colored and white races if based upon the tradition, custom and usage of the state.
(Harlan, J.) The statute does not allow the individual to freely associate with others as is his constitutional right. The
constitution takes no notice of skin color or race, and treats all citizens alike under law. Blacks are not inferior nor subject
by race to whites. They are U.S. citizens and therefore entitled to enjoy all the privileges the constitution guarantees them.
These privileges are denied by the act of segregation, which is therefore not permissible.The conviction should be