Facts of the case
Louisiana enacted the Separate Car Act, which required separate railway cars for blacks and whites. In 1892, Homer Plessy – who was seven-eighths Caucasian – agreed to participate in a test to challenge the Act. He was solicited by the Comite des Citoyens (Committee of Citizens), a group of New Orleans residents who sought to repeal the Act. They asked Plessy, who was technically black under Louisiana law, to sit in a whites onlycar of a Louisiana train.The railroad cooperated because it thought the Act imposed unnecessary costs via the purchase of additional railroad cars. When Plessy was told to vacate the whites-only car, he refused and was arrested.At trial, Plessy’s lawyers argued that the Separate Car Act violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. The judge found that Louisiana could enforce this law insofar as it affected railroads within its boundaries. Plessy was convicted.
Why is the case important?
A Louisiana statute required railroad companies to provide separate, but equal accommodations for its Black and White passengers. The Plaintiff, Plessy (Plaintiff), was prosecuted under the statute after he refused to leave the section of a train reserved for whites.
Was the statute requiring separate, but equal accommodations on railroad transportation consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution?
Yes. The State Supreme Court is affirmed.
Justice Henry Brown (J. Brown) stated that although the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution was designed to enforce the equality between the races, it was not intended to abolish distinctions based on color, or to enforce a commingling of the races in a way unsatisfactory to either. Laws requiring the separation of the races do not imply the inferiority of either. If the law “stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority,” it is because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it. Therefore, the statute constitutes a valid exercise of the States’ police powers.
The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution does, however, require that the exercise of a State’s police powers be reasonable. Laws enacted in good faith, for the promotion of the public good and not for the annoyance or oppression of another race are reasonable. As such, the statute was reasonable.
- Advocates: A. W. Tourgee for Plessy Samuel Field Phillips for Plessy Alexander Porter Morse for Ferguson
- Petitioner: Homer Adolph Plessy
- Respondent: John Ferguson
- DECIDED BY:Fuller Court
- Location: Old Louisiana State Capitol
|Citation:||163 US 537 (1896)|
|Argued:||Apr 13, 1896|
|Decided:||May 18, 1896|