Citation. 109 U.S. 3, 3 S.Ct. 18, 27 L.Ed 835 (1883).
Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiffs were convicted under the Civil Rights Act of 1875 and challenged the constitutionality of their convictions.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The 13th and 14th Amendments do not empower Congress to outlaw racial discrimination in the context of private individuals.
The Civil Rights Act of 1875 prohibited discrimination on the basis of race and set forth fines for private business owners who were found guilty under the Act. In five separate cases, Plaintiffs were found guilty under the Act after denying African Americans accommodations in their places of business. Plaintiffs brought suit, arguing the Act was unconstitutional because Congress did not have authority under the 13th and 14th Amendments to regulate private acts.
Whether Congress has the authority under the 13th and 14th Amendments to regulate private acts by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race.
No. Congress does not have the authority under the 13th and 14th Amendments to regulate private acts by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race.
Both the 13th and 14th Amendments give Congress power to legislate directly with reference to private individuals engaged in such quasi-public businesses as involved in these cases.
Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject matter of the 14th Amendment. It does not authorize Congress to create a code of municipal law for the regulation of private rights. Rather, it is about state action. As such, Congress can provide modes of redress against the operation of state laws, and the action of state officers, executive or judicial. Additionally, the 13th Amendment exists to declare and vindicate those fundamental rights which are the essence of civil freedom. It does not, however, give Congress the authority to adjust social rights of men and races in the community. Taken all together, we are of the opinion that no countenance of authority for the passage of the law in question can be found in either the 13th or 14th Amendment and no other ground of authority has been suggested. It is void as applied to the states.