Plessy v. Ferguson

Key Facts– Louisiana passed an act providing for separate train cars for Black and White people. The act required that the cars be “equal but separate.” A mixed-race man, Plessy, volunteered to test the law and was arrested.

Issue– Does this violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

Holding– No

Result– Law upheld

Reasoning– The Fourteenth Amendment is interpreted here as creating a legal equality that does not necessitate commingling between the races. Thus, as long as they are treated equally, separating the races is permissible. This does not necessarily stamp one race with a badge of inferiority. The court further argues that the law cannot enforce social equality or overcome social prejudices, and should not try to do so.

Plessy and Ferguson... can you tell which is which?
Plessy and Ferguson… can you tell which is which?

Loving v. Virginia (1967)

Key Facts– Virginia had a law that prohibited interracial marriage. Loving and his wife married outside of the state and then returned to Virginia.

Procedural History– Trial court sentenced the couple to one year in jail, suspended for twenty-five years. Trial judge noted “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Supreme Court of Appeals upheld constitutionality of the law, but modified the sentence. Supreme Court grants well-deserved certiorari.

Issue– Is a law prohibiting interracial marriage constitutional?

Holding– No.

Result– Law overturned.

Reasoning– This violates the Equal Protection Clause. Marriage is a basic civil right. This law should not still exist in 1967, especially given that Heart of Atlanta was three years before this case (my reasoning).

Interracial marriage, back when it was a novel concept (depiction of Othello)
Interracial marriage, back when it was a novel concept (depiction of Othello)