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Equal Protection: Documents Decoded
Page11(20 of 258)
11 BRADLEY, J.1 It is obvious that the primary and important question in all the cases is the constitutionality of the law for if the law is unconstitutional none of the prosecutions can stand. The sections of the law referred to provide as follows: 1 Justice Joseph P. Bradley (1813–1892) served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1870 until his death in 1892. Bradley was a well-known attorney who handled a variety of high- profile commercial litigation before being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885). The Civil Rights Cases October 15, 1883 I N T R O D U C T I O N The Civil Rights Cases were a collection of cases from five states: California, Kansas, Mis- souri, New York, and Tennessee. The cases were United States v. Ryan, United States v. Stan- ley, United States v. Nichols, United States v. Singleton, and Robinson v. Memphis & Charleston Railroad Co. They involved private individuals denying African American individuals admis- sion to an inn, a movie theater, an opera house, and a railroad company. For example, in the Tennessee case, the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Co. refused to allow African Ameri- can woman Sallie J. Robinson to board the train. These plaintiffs sued under a federal law known as the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which made it unlawful to refuse to provide public accommodations on the basis of race or color. The 39th Congress justified the passage of this law as a way to wipe out the badges of slav- ery and involuntary servitude imposed on African Americans. They believed they had the power to pass the law under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. However, the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court believed that these amendments did not give Congress the power to pass this new law. They believed that the Fourteenth Amendment only limits actions by the government, not private actors. Furthermore, they reasoned that the Thirteenth Amendment simply did not apply to refusal of service on the basis of race. It was a most unfortunate ruling from the perspective of the treatment of African Ameri- cans in society. Justice John Marshall Harlan I dissented. He famously wrote that the “sub- stance and spirit of the recent amendments of the Constitution have been sacrificed by a subtle and ingenious verbal criticism.”