Plessy Vs. Fergeson

By Cody Barnes

Plessy V. Ferguson 163 U.S. 537, 16 S. Ct. 1138, 41 L. Ed. 256 (1896)

By: Cody Barnes

Summary: Plessy, who was the petitioner, wanted to sit in an all-white railroad car. After repeated attempts to ask him to move to an all-black he was arrested for violating a Louisiana State statute (1890). This statute stated that the carriage cars were to be segregated by color. However, they were to be “separate but equal”. Any person that violated this statue was criminally liable under this statute (1).

The judge that presided over the trial was: Justice John H. Ferguson, a democrat. Plessy was found guilty. The judge ruled that the law was reasonable and that the police exercised their powers based upon customs and tradition in the state. The lawyers for Plessy filed an immediate petition for writs of prohibition (This is asking the higher court to order the lower court not to exercise jurisdiction) (2). And certiorari (This is the higher court asking the lower court for a transcript of the trial, for review) (2). The lawyers also asserted that segregation stigmatized blacks and led them to feel that they were inferior. This was in direct violation of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments. The court found for Ferguson and the Supreme Court granted cert.

Main Issue: Does an individual state enact legislation requiring persons of different races to use “separate but equal” segregated facilities, in accordance with the Constitution?

Supreme Court Decision: Yes. The states can constitutionally enact legislation requiring persons of different races to use “separate but equal” segregated facilities.

Amendments or Constitutional Concepts Involved:

1. The Thirteenth Amendment:

a. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.

b. The Thirteenth Amendment however was regarded as insufficient to protect former slaves from certain laws which had been enacted in the south. This amendment imposed such burdens that it did little to help them and freedom was of little value.

2. The Fourteenth Amendment:

a. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction are made citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside, and the States are forbidden from making or enforcing any law which shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or deny to any person within their jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

b. Its main purpose was to establish the citizenship of former slaves, to give definitions of citizenship of the United States and of the States, and to protect the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States from hostile legislation of the states.

c. It was seen as closing the “loopholes” that the 13th amendment created.

Effects and Concepts from the Ruling:

1. Plessy lost his case.

2. This case showed the weaknesses in the Constitutional amendments, and the need for further rulings to close legal loopholes.

3. This case was later overturned by Brown V. Board of Education. This was a unanimous decision in which Justice Warren wrote that having separate facilities which segregate based on race are inherently unequal.




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