The Civil Rights Cases Case Brief

Summary of the Civil Rights Cases (1883)

Relevant Facts: Lots of discrimination amongst State citizens who were probably charged under the Act of 1875.

Issue: Under constitutional law, is the discrimination of African-American freemen after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, a violation of due process under the 14th amendment?

Holding: Yes (but not anymore). The discrimination of a freemen does not violate the words of the Act, “regardless of any previous condition of servitude.”

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: The powers were reserved to the people in the tenth amendment, and the implication of a power to legislate in this manner is based on the assumption that if the States are forbidden to legislate or act in a particular way on a particular subject, and power is conferred upon Congress power to legislate generally upon that subject, and not merely power to provide modes of redress against such State legislation or action. This assumption is certainly unsound.

The wrongful act of an individual unsupported by any such authority, is simply a private wrong, or a crime of that individual. His rights remain in full force, and may presumably be vindicated by resort to the laws of the State for redress (this is a tort action more or less). Let the states handle it.

Thus an act of refusal into a public place has nothing to do with “a badge of slavery or involuntary servitude.” The “discriminated party” must take care of their cause of action in a state court. It would not be feasible to make every case based on slavery a federal case. Also, some African-Americans enjoyed freedoms before this Act was passed; why are they complaining now?

Rule: 14th Amendment/the clause from the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which is quoted in the issue

Important Dicta: This is not a social decision, this is a political and constitutional one.

Dissenting: (Justice Harlan): There is no entry into the domain of state’s rights here; this Act is just a political manifestation of the prevailing notion of universal freedom. Practicing discrimination is a bade of servitude, as it is a constant reminder of what was, and what shouldn’t be anymore according to the law, but still is, since the court has ruled in favor of bowing out of the conflict.

Furthermore, the 5th article of the 14th amendment does not specifically reference prohibitions on states.The government does not have anything to do with social issues or social relations, but there should be no discrimination by any member of the States to freemen of the States for anything having to do with their previous history.

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