Plessy Was Messy

You may be seated.

The Court is back from its recess.

This long debate about the failures of the Supreme Court could not be made without the legal precedents set forth by Plessy v. Ferguson.

Now, everyone has heard of this infamous case, and if you haven’t, please go back to middle school. No Supreme Court case was more detrimental to the civil rights of millions of United States citizens post-Civil War quite like Plessy v. Ferguson.

But, before I rip apart the Supreme Court’s rhetoric, we must contextually analyze the situation.

In the Jim Crow South, many states had laws that separated Whites from Blacks in order to promote racial prosperity (sarcastically rolls eyes). Fortunately, people were pissed, and rightfully so.

Therefore, in 1892, Homer Adolph Plessy boarded a train and refused to sit in the section for Blacks. Then, Plessy intentionally informed a conductor that he was 1/8 black. The conductor told him to move. He refused.

Since he broke a Louisiana statute, he was promptly arrested.

He then petitioned his case before the Supreme Court in order to show that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court ruled against him 7-1.¬†Justice Henry Billings Brown wrote the majority opinion stating that the Fourteenth Amendment permitted such discrimination as “public policy”. The opinion stated that this law did not suggest that African-Americans were inferior, but they could be separated from Whites if it benefited the public. He wrote, “”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.”

Now we know that his reasoning is faulty at best, but thankfully there was a dissenting opinion. Justice John Marshall Harlan stated:

But in view of the constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a state to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race.

In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott case.

This eloquent piece of literature inspires the beaten conscious of the rational thinker. It seems that even then there were intelligent judges. However, this does not erase the fact that Supreme Court cases are won by a majority. It does not change the fact the precedent of “separate but equal” was in place until Brown v. Board of Education (1954). For without this case the Jim Crow South would have been harder to sustain.

It is easy to suggest that if “separate but equal” was stuck down, generations of African-Americans would have attended better schools and received better educations.

In short, this Court case destroyed every fundamental ideal that the United States stands for: equality and justice.

The Supreme Court decided to ignore the document they swore to uphold.

Therefore, the Supreme Court shows, by its own words, the corruption it harbors.

Anger from some audience members

Order in the Court!

This Court will dismiss for a brief recess.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar