Free «Plessy v. Ferguson» Essay

Plessy v. Ferguson

In the year 1890, the statute of Louisiana passed the legislation that ensured the railway carriages had the assigned passengers seats and compartments according to the race of their occupants. The coach officers were assigned with the duty of ensuring that no passenger was to occupy the position he/she was not eligible for and in case of failure to obey, the passenger faced a fine or even incarceration. It is out of this law that Plessy sought to sue the Orleans' Criminal District Court Judge Hon. John H. Ferguson for the violation of equal rights (CULS, 2016). This essay aims to explore the 1896 court case presided in the United States Supreme Court and involving Plessy, the plaintiff, and Ferguson, the judge.

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The details of the court hearing put forth included the fact that the plaintiff was a United States citizen residing in the state of Louisiana. He was partly Caucasian and partly African and felt that he had a right to the privileges legally accorded to the white race as well. On June 7, 1892, he was traveling to Covington from New Orleans, for which he purchased a first class ticket and found a vacant seat in one of the coaches. That is when he was forcefully ejected from the train because of the refusal to comply with the conductor's order to occupy another position. He was hurriedly taken off and imprisoned in the parish jail in New Orleans (CULS, 2016). He was then charged with being guilty of violating the General Assembly of the tate Act approved in 1890.

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The legal question in contention was the violation of equal treatment as provided by the 13th Amendment that had abolished slavery and the 14th Amendment which was adopted to enhance the 13th Amendment by giving the non-whites freedom and liberty in the United States. It also requires the equal treatment of all the citizens of the United States regardless of their color. They are protected from any form of discrimination to the privileges, immunities, and protection of the law (CULS, 2016). These legislations thus made the law of Louisiana unconstitutional in a way that by separating them from the white passengers it had pointed the colored race as inferior and this was against the provision of the constitution.

In the final decision, however, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the 1890 Louisiana law that required the people of the different races to have separate seats and compartments based on their color. The Supreme Court saw no violation of the constitution since the 13th Amendment required only the abolishment of slavery. In this case, since it was argued that the passengers were not forced into servitude and had the same quality accommodation for traveling, there was no violation of the amendment. The act did not, therefore, contravene the provision of the 14thAmendment that required equal treatment since the issue, in this case, was based exclusiveely on segregation (Toni, 2007). The ruling was made on the ground that equality was completely observed and thus was not unconstitutional.

The rationale of the decision of the Supreme Court was that the railway company had a collective duty of separating the passengers according to their race. Anyway, it also had a public duty of serving the passengers equally regardless of their race though in a segregated system (Brian, 2015). This system was not different in any way from the one advocated for in the educational system where the whites and the colored attended different schools with different curriculum. On the other hand, it was true that equality was upheld and the segregation did not amount to discrimination.

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In his dissenting opinion, Justice Harlan’s stand was that the case of assigning the representatives of different racial groups was unconstitutional and a violation of the 13thAmendment by the act of segregation was present, as it then presumed the African Americans were inferior and thus a badge of servitude was evident (Brian, 2015). He also pointed out that although the law also violated the 14th Amendment since it interfered with the personal freedom and liberty of both whites and African Americans since it had stripped them of their civil equality, the legislation at hand can only be partially offensive as the conditions created for the travel of the passengers of both races were identical.

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