Plessy v. Ferguson
163 U.S. 537 (1896)

  • The 14th Amendment was ratified, guaranteeing all Americans equal protection, regardless of race.
  • Louisiana passed Act 111 that required separate accommodations for blacks and whites on railroads, including separate railway cars.
    • In order to get around the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, Act 111 specified that the accommodations must be kept “equal.”
  • A group of citizens decided to test the constitutionality of the law, so they sent Plessy (who was only 1/8th black) to violate it. He was arrested and convicted of violating the law.
  • The Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Plessy appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment only required that laws that provide “equal” protection. It does not say that laws cannot create multiple classes of persons.
      • “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.”
  • This case made the doctrine of “separate but equal” constitutional.
    • “Separate but equal” basically says that segregation based on classifications was legal as long as facilities were of equal quality.
      • Of course, in practice, minorities were not provided with genuinely equal facilities and resources, so “separate but equal” was almost always a de facto violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
  • This case, and the doctrine of “separate but equal” were overturned in Brown v. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483 (1954)).