Plessy vs. Ferguson Case

Subject: Law
Pages: 7
Words: 1666
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College

The amendment object was clearly aimed at the enforcement of complete equality before the statutes of the whites and the blacks, but due to some natural circumstances, distinctions on the basis of color could not be abolished. Likewise, enforcement of social equality or bringing the two races together under circumstances that did not satisfy them was not the aim of the amendment.

Laws that gave permission or demanded that people of different races were to be separated to avoid their contact, did not essentially mean that one race was inferior to the other, and were generally treated as components of the state legislatures. The commonest occurrence of this related to the initiation of separate schools to serve blacks and whites, which was treated as a right legislative move by state courts where the colored race had their political rights enforced.

Among such prominent cases was the case of Roberts v. City of Boston. In this case, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court argued that the general Boston school committee was able to provide ways through which separate schools for colored students were be established and prevent them from attending other schools. This was the only way to assist the black students since their chances of attending school were limited. As a result, they spent many years at home when they were supposed to be at school. This was not the case with their white counterparts whose rights to attend school were not denied. The great principle which was associated with the learnt plaintiff’s advocate, argued that the constitution of Massachusetts and its laws recognized all people as equal regardless of their color, birth or origin.

However, application of this great principle to the real situations of societal members did not allow assertions that gave men and women similar or equal political and civil powers to be made. It also did not warrant that children and adults were legally to be exposed to the same functions and be subjected to the same treatment, but only that the rights of all, as they were settled and regulated by law, were equally entitled to the paternal consideration and protection of the law for their maintenance and security. They decided that the committee powers were extended in the formation and the establishment of separate schools for children of different ages, sexes and colors.

It was also decided that the neglected and poor children were to be assisted if special schools were established to cater for their needs. This was because their age was past the school going age yet they had not acquired the basic education they required to join ordinary schools. Congress had enacted similar laws under its general power of legislation over the District of Columbia as well as by the legislatures of many States. They were generally sustained by the judicial system. Laws that prevented people of different races from intermarrying technically contravened contract freedom and yet, there was a universal recognition that they were within the state’s police power.

Evaluation of the Case and Logical Fallacies

The Plessy majority was an important case that dealt with segregation and the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. It was a case of favoritism towards segregation, yet there were many who argued in favor of it. This paper will discuss the logical fallacies found in this case.

As stated in the case itself, those who argued in its favor pointed out that technically, the verdict was based on the fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. This amendment stated that all citizens of the country were provided equal protection and that any state or federal government could not violate their immunities or privileges (Thomas, 14). Thus, citizens were offered equal legal status but the law could not guarantee equality in other statuses, such as social or political statuses. The case being that segregation was mostly a social status, it therefore could not be regarded as either unconstitutional or illegal. In other words it could not be judged in terms of the law because it was outside the realm of the law.

This claim that segregation could not be defined in terms of law because it was outside the realm of law was a logical fallacy. Probably, the most evident one was the distinction between the legal and social statuses of men. The decision fully approved the legal equality of men regardless of color but disapproved social equality. Nevertheless, the legal notion of civil rights was something that dealt with social statuses of individuals. Thus, by disapproving social equality, the case in fact touched on the issue of civil rights. Segregation meant that Afro-Americans were prohibited from accessing certain rights that were enjoyed by white men.

For example, the case of Robinson v. City of Boston clearly demonstrated the limitation in rights that colored people had in comparison with white people. In that case, young colored children were denied the right to have the same level of education as white children. Discrimination with regard to the rights that blacks and whites were entitled to was surely unconstitutional (Thomas 10).

Another argument that was advanced in favor of the case was the natural distinction among people of different skin colors. The law could not change nature nor refute it, thus the whites and the black were naturally different from each other because of their skin color. This implied that there was nothing that could be done to change the situation not even invoking the laws of the country hence the two races were bound to live separated lives. The white and black people were obviously neither the same nor were they equal in terms of color, race, or genetics. By following these lines, the segregation in the social order of white and black people was simply a continuation of the natural order of things. Therefore, it was not the law that was responsible for the segregation but rather nature, which could not be changed.

The case of the Louisiana Statute was a good example. Under this statute, black citizens were not allowed to sit in trains since there were certain cars reserved for them. Thus, they did not have the right to select their seats other than using what had been designed for them. This was a clear case where the state law limited the personal rights of individuals based on their race or color. That was a fallacy since even the Plessy majority pledged to the legal equality of citizens regardless of race and color (Thomas 12).

Another fallacy was that of the natural trend of the separation of the races. If that was considered true, black and white people would have organized themselves liberally and initiated segregations among themselves. Thus, there was no need to have a law such as the Louisiana Statute, or a clause like the separate but equal in our case. The trend towards segregation was natural and needed no regulation. By enacting laws that segregated people, this limited or removed the right of organizations and communities to choose how they were to organize themselves. Again, limitation in rights and liberties based on skin color or race was something alien to the US constitution. That was why the argument of natural tendency to segregation did not have any basis at all (Dobratz, Meile and Stephanie 44).

Another fallacy was identified by Brown during the case. He said, “If the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority as Tourgee had claimed, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction.” (Anderson 42). He bought the idea of Louisiana that since individuals from both races were forbidden from sitting in cars assigned for the other race and both cars were more or less equal, then both blacks and whites received the same treatment under the law.

Moreover, the argument that it was possible to enact laws that eliminated social prejudice and secured equal rights by forcing the two races to commingle was a fallacy (Anderson 42). The characterization of Plessy’s plea that was given by Brown, that the law was supposed to protect the rights of Plessy against racist legislation, provided a twist that probably was not intended by the plaintiff. He argued that if the political and civil rights of the two races were equal, neither of them was inferior to the other. The constitution was unable to extend equal social treatment to a race that was socially inferior to the other (Anderson 42).

The claim by Brown that, the most important issue was the reasonableness of law was found faulty by Harlan. According to Harlan, what the court was supposed to do was to determine the constitutionality of the law rather than determine whether the law was reasonable or not.

The color blind nature of the constitution, as Harlan deemed it, meant that the laws and the Supreme Court were supposed to regard man as man, without taking into account his surroundings or color when civil rights were involved. Under this measure, Louisiana law was harmful to the spirit and letter of the constitution. As he made this argument, Harlan also sought to find out if states were permitted to enforce segregation in use of public facilities by race. It then followed that nothing could deter them from causing divisions in the streets or from perpetrating religious segregation, such as having cars for Protestants and others for Catholics.

Harlan suggested that individuals were supposed to hold their prejudice and individual pride. However, such considerations were not supposed to enter into the acts of legislative and judicial bodies. Moreover, he cautioned against the effects of the majority’s decision. He said that it was capable of fostering legislations that aroused racial hate and caused distrust among races. He admonished the majority by saying that the thin disguise of equal accommodations for passengers in railroad coaches was neither to mislead anyone nor reverse the wrongs that had been done (Anderson 44).

Works Cited

Anderson, Wayne. Plessy V. Ferguson:Legalizing Segregation. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2003. Print.

Dobratz, Meile and L. Stephanie. The White Separatist Movement in the United States:. Baltimore: JHU Press, 2001. Print.

Thomas, Brook. Plessy v. Ferguson: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1997. Print.