Plessy v. Ferguson, No. 210

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBROWN
Citation41 L.Ed. 256,163 U.S. 537,16 S.Ct. 1138
Docket NumberNo. 210
Decision Date18 May 1896
PartiesPLESSY v. FERGUSON

163 U.S. 537
16 S.Ct. 1138
41 L.Ed. 256
PLESSY

v.

FERGUSON.

No. 210.
May 18, 1896.

Page 538

This was a petition for writs of prohibition and certiorari originally filed in the supreme court of the state by Plessy, the plaintiff in error, against the Hon. John H. Ferguson, judge of the criminal district court for the parish of Orleans, and setting forth, in substance, the following facts:

That petitioner was a citizen of the United States and a resident of the state of Louisiana, of mixed descent, in the proportion of seven-e ghths Caucasian and one-eighth African blood; that the mixture of colored blood was not discernible in him, and that he was entitled to every recognition, right, privilege, and immunity secured to the citizens of the United States of the white race by its constitution and laws; that on June 7, 1892, he engaged and paid for a first-class passage on the East Louisiana Railway, from New Orleans to Covington, in the same state, and thereupon entered a passenger train, and took possession of a vacant seat in a coach where passengers of the white race were accommodated; that such railroad company was incorporated by the laws of Louisiana as a common carrier, and was not authorized to distinguish between citizens according to their race, but, notwithstanding this, petitioner was required by the conductor, under penalty of ejection from said train and imprisonment, to vacate said coach, and occupy another seat, in a coach assigned by said company for persons not of the white race, and for no other reason than that petitioner was of the colored race; that, upon petitioner's refusal to comply with such order, he was, with the aid of a police officer, forcibly ejected from said coach, and hurried off to, and imprisoned in, the parish jail of

Page 539

New Orleans, and there held to answer a charge made by such officer to the effect that he was guilty of having criminally violated an act of the general assembly of the state, approved July 10, 1890, in such case made and provided.

The petitioner was subsequently brought before the recorder of the city for preliminary examination, and committed for trial to the criminal district court for the parish of Orleans, where an information was filed against him in the matter above set forth, for a violation of the above act, which act the petitioner affirmed to be null and void, because in conflict with the constitution of the United States; that petitioner interposed a plea to such information, based upon the unconstitutionality of the act of the general assembly, to which the district attorney, on behalf of the state, filed a demurrer; that, upon issue being joined upon such demurrer and plea, the court sustained the demurrer, overruled the plea, and ordered petitioner to plead over to the facts set forth in the information, and that, unless the judge of the said court be enjoined by a writ of prohibition from further proceeding in such case, the court will proceed to fine and sentence petitioner to imprisonment, and thus deprive him of his constitutional rights set forth in his said plea, notwithstanding the unconstitutionality of the act under which he was being prosecuted; that no appeal lay from such sentence, and petitioner was without relief or remedy except by writs of prohibition and certiorari. Copies of the information and other proceedings in the criminal district court were annexed to the petition as an exhibit.

Upon the filing of this petition, an order was issued upon the respondent to show cause why a writ of prohibition should not issue, and be made perpetual, and a further order that the record of the proceedings had in the criminal cause be certified and transmitted to the supreme court.

To this order the respondent made answer, transmitting a certified copy of the proceedings, asserting the constitutionality of the law, and averring that, instead of pleading or admitting that he belonged to the colored race, the said Plessy declined and refused, either by pleading or otherwise, to ad-

Page 540

mit that he was in any sense or in any proportion a colored man.

The case coming on for hearing before the supreme court, that court was of opinion that the law under which the prosecution was had was constitutional and denied the relief prayed for by the petitioner (Ex parte Plessy, 45 La. Ann. 80, 11 South. 948); whereupon petitioner prayed for a writ of error from this court, which was allowed by the chief justice of the supreme court of Louisiana.

Mr. Justice Harlan dissenting.

A. W. Tourgee and S. F. Phillips, for plaintiff in error.

Alex. Porter Morse, for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice BROWN, after stating the facts in the foregoing language, delivered the opinion of the court.

This case turns upon the constitutionality of an act of the general assembly of the state of Louisiana, passed in 1890, providing for separate railway carriages for the white and colored races. Acts 1890, No. 111, p. 152.

The first section of the statute enacts 'that all railway companies carrying passengers in their coaches in this state, shall provide equal but separate accommodations for the white, and colored races, by providing two or more passenger coaches for each passenger train, or by dividing the passenger coaches by a partition so as to secure separate accommodations: provided, that this section shall not be construed to apply to street railroads. No person or persons shall be permitted to occupy seats in coaches, other than the ones assigned to them, on account of the race they belong to.'

By the second section it was enacted 'that the officers of such passenger trains shall have power and are hereby required

Page 541

to assign each passenger to the coach or compartment used for the race to which such passenger belongs; any passenger insisting on going into a coach or compartment to which by race he does not belong, shall be liable to a fine of twenty-five dollars, or in lieu thereof to imprisonment for a period of not more than twenty days in the parish prison, and any officer of any railroad insisting on assigning a passenger to a coach or compartment other than the one set aside for the race to which said passenger belongs, shall be liable to a fine of twenty-five dollars, or in lieu thereof to imprisonment for a period of not more than twenty days in the parish prison; and should any passenger refuse to occupy the coach or compartment to which he or she is assigned by the officer of such railway, said officer shall have power to refuse to carry such passenger on his train, and for such refusal neither he nor the railway company which he represents shall be liable for damages in any of the courts of this state.'

The third section provides penalties for the refusal or neglect of the officers, directors, conductors, and employees of railway companies to comply with the act, with a proviso that 'nothing in this act shall be construed as applying to nurses attending children of the other race.' The fourth section is immaterial.

The information filed in the criminal district court charged, in substance, that Plessy, being a passenger between two stations within the state of Louisiana, was assigned by officers of the company to the coach used for the race to which he belonged, but he insisted upon going into a coach used by the race to which he did not belong. Neither in the information nor plea was his particular race or color averred.

The petition for the writ of prohibition averred that petitioner was seven-eights Caucasian and one-eighth African blood; that the mixture of colored blood was not discernible in him; and that he was entitled to every right, privilege, and immunity secured to citizens of the United States of the white race; and that, upon such theory, he took possession of a vacant seat in a coach where passengers of the white race were accommodated, and was ordered by the conductor to vacate

Page 542

said coach, and take a seat in another, assigned to persons of the colored race, and, having refused to comply with such demand, he was forcibly ejected, with the aid of a police officer, and imprisoned in the parish jail to answer a charge of having violated the above act.

The constitutionality of this act is attacked upon the ground that it conflicts both with the thirteenth amendment of the constitution, abolishing slavery, and the fourteenth amendment, which prohibits certain restrictive legislation on the part of the states.

1. That it does not conflict with the thirteenth amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except § a punishment for crime, is too clear for argument. Slavery implies involuntary servitude,—a state of bondage; the ownership of mankind as a chattel, or, at least, the control of the labor and services of one man for the benefit of another, and the absence of a legal right to the disposal of his own person, property, and services. This amendment was said in the Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, to have been intended primarily to abolish slavery, as it had been previously known in this country, and that it equally forbade Mexican peonage or the Chinese coolie trade, when they amounted to slavery or involuntary servitude, and that the use of the word 'servitude' was intended to prohibit the use of all forms of involuntary slavery, of whatever class or name. It was intimated, however, in that case, that this amendment was regarded by the statesmen of that day as insufficient to protect the colored race from certain laws which had been enacted in the Southern states, imposing upon the colored race onerous disabilities and burdens, and curtailing their rights in the pursuit of life, liberty, and property to such an extent that their freedom was of little value; and that the fourteenth amendment was devised to meet this exigency.

So, too, in the Civil Rights Cases, 109 U. S. 3, 3 Sup. Ct. 18, it was said that the act of a mere individual, the owner...

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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska
    • May 12, 2005
    ...Constitution `neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.'" Romer, 517 U.S. at 623, 116 S.Ct. 1620, quoting Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256 (1896) (Harlan, J., In the present case, the court finds that Section 29 both names specific groups and desc......
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    • California Court of Appeals
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    ...dining facilities and sleeping quarters for the races, will probably be traced to the high judicial approval of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. But the record before us uncontrovertibly establishes that over the last decade and well beyond, the City has in go......
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    ...determination and for the exercise of all their powers of prevention. 158 U.S. at 582-83, 15 S.Ct. at 905. 16 See Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256 17 United States v. California, incidentally, involved a far more direct threat to state interests than this case, ......
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    • May 5, 1955
    ...now turn. At the outset it should be observed that this Court is aware that the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 1144, 41 L.Ed. 256, no longer controls as to the public schools, but has been expressly overruled by the four cases finding......
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730 cases
  • Citizens for Equal Protection, Inc. v. Bruning, No. 4:03CV3155.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court of Nebraska
    • May 12, 2005
    ...Constitution `neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.'" Romer, 517 U.S. at 623, 116 S.Ct. 1620, quoting Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 559, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256 (1896) (Harlan, J., In the present case, the court finds that Section 29 both names specific groups and desc......
  • Hull v. Cason
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 7, 1981
    ...dining facilities and sleeping quarters for the races, will probably be traced to the high judicial approval of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. But the record before us uncontrovertibly establishes that over the last decade and well beyond, the City has in go......
  • U.S. v. City of Philadelphia, No. 80-1348
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • February 19, 1981
    ...determination and for the exercise of all their powers of prevention. 158 U.S. at 582-83, 15 S.Ct. at 905. 16 See Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 41 L.Ed. 256 17 United States v. California, incidentally, involved a far more direct threat to state interests than this case, ......
  • Romero v. Weakley, No. 1712-SD
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 5, 1955
    ...now turn. At the outset it should be observed that this Court is aware that the "separate but equal" doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S.Ct. 1138, 1144, 41 L.Ed. 256, no longer controls as to the public schools, but has been expressly overruled by the four cases finding......
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    ...hold on the Court than would have been true of a hypothetical 53 Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393 (1857). 54 Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 Fourteenth Amendment clause saying, &dquo;Nothing in this amendment shall be construed to forbid legislatures from mandating separation of the rac......
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