Plessy v. Ferguson

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Plessy v. Ferguson
Court Supreme Court of the United States
Citation 163 U.S. 537 (1896)
Date decided May 18, 1896
Appealed from Louisiana Supreme Court
Overturned by
Brown v. Board of Education (Brown I)
Distinguished by
Sweatt v. Painter
Case Opinions
majority written by Henry B. Brown
joined by Fuller, Field, Gray, Shiras, White, Peckham
dissent written by John Marshall Harlan


Plessy (P), who was 7/8 white and 1/8 black, refused to comply with a demand that he sit in the black railway carriage in Louisiana rather than the one for whites.

Procedural History

P was convicted of violation of a state statute providing for separate railway carriages for the white and black races. P challenged the law but lost. P appeals.


May a state require that separate railway carriages be provided for black citizens and white citizens?



The law does not imply the inferiority of either race. The only proper restraint on the exercise of state police power is that it be reasonable and intended for the promotion of the general good. The state legislature may properly have concluded that the law would preserve the public peace and good order.

It certainly is no more obnoxious to the 14th Amendment than laws requiring separate schools, which are universally accepted. Legislation cannot overcome social prejudices; the attempt to do so can only result in accentuating difficulties. The Constitution can act to equate civil and political rights of the two races, but cannot affect social standing.




Dissent (Harlan): No legislature or court may properly regard the race of citizens where civil rights are involved. Every citizen, regardless of color, has a right to occupy the public transportation of his choice; governmental infringement of that right is unconstitutional. Our Constitution is color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. Any evils resulting form commingling of the races are less than those resulting from curtailment of civil rights upon the basis of race.

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