14th Amendment enforces absolute equality, does not
The 14th Amendment undoubtedly
requires and enforces absolute equality among the
It could not have
been intended to abolish
on color, or to enforce social
equality, or a commingling of the races upon terms
unsatisfactory to either.
Separation does not imply inferiority or violation of the 14th
Indeed, laws permitting and requiring separation of the races in
places in which blacks and whites are likely to come into
contact do not imply the inferiority of either race and do not
result in a violation of the 14th Amendment.
Valid separation of Schools
The most common instance of this rule is the
segregation of schools,
which is generally recognized by courts as a
proper exercise of state
legislative and police powers.
Plessy suggests that this same argument will justify all sorts
of rules to keep blacks and whites separate.
Requiring Blacks and Whites to walk on different sides of the
street or to paint their houses different colors.
This based up on the theory that one side of the street is as
good and the other, or that house or vehicle of one color is as
good as one another color.
The reply to this is that every exercise of the
police power must be reasonable,
and extend only to such laws as are enacted
in good faith for the promotion of the public good,
and not for the annoyance or oppression of a particular class.
In determining reasonableness, the
legislature is at liberty to act with reference to
the established usages,
customs, and traditions of the people, with a view to
the promotion of their comfort, and the preservation of the
public peace and
Gauged by this standard, we cannot say that the law at issue
here is unreasonable.
Assumes Separation Stamp of inferiority
Plessy's argument is based on an assumption that the enforced
separation of the two races places a stamp of inferiority on
This is simply not true.
Assumes that social prejudices may be overcome by legislation
The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome
by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured by
blacks except by a forced commingling of the races.
This also is not true, as
legislation will not abolish people's feelings toward the races.
Cannot be inferior if equal both politically and civilly
If the civil and political rights of both races be equal, one
cannot be inferior to the other civilly or politically.
If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution
cannot put them on the same plane.
DISSENT Justice Harlan
Constitution is color-blind.
There is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of
There is no caste here.
Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates
classes among citizens.
In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the
Original to exclude African Americans from white cars
Although it appeared facially neutral, "[e]very one knows that
[it] had its origin in the purpose, not so much to exclude white
persons from railroad cars occupied by blacks, as to exclude
colored people from coaches occupied by or assigned to white
persons." The statute therefore interfered with the personal
freedom of African Americans.
The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his
surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed
by the supreme law of the land are involved.