The Law School Authority

Plessey v. Ferguson Case Brief

Summary of Plessey v. Ferguson


Louisiana law required railway passenger cars have equal but separate accommodations for blacks and whites.  

Procedural History:

P was arrested for refusing to vacate a seat in the white coach.  

Does separate but equal violate the EPC?


No, separate but equal doesn’t violate the EPC.


The object of the EPC was to enforce the equality of the two races, but not to abolish distinctions made upon color.  Laws requiring separate have historically been recognized as within the right of the state.  


As long as the law is reasonable, and is enacted in good faith for the promotion of the public good, and not for annoyance or oppression of a particular class, it is constitutional.  (A law is reasonable if it acts in reference to the established traditions of the people—under this standard, racism is an established tradition)

In response to P’s argument that equal rights can’t be conferred except by commingling:  If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be a voluntary meeting.  To force it would only enlarge the problem between the races.  



Harlan dissent: 

  • The court’s reasoning that this rule applies equally to blacks and whites (because whites aren’t allowed to go into the black cars) is ridiculous.  Everyone knows this is only to exclude the blacks. 
  • Also, in response to the court’s reaction to P’s commingling argument:  to enforce state laws that say that blacks are so inferior that they can’t sit in the same car as whites is only going to arouse more hate. 

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