This case deals with a dispute that arose regarding the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1875.
A number of cases had arisen to challenge the Civil Rights Act. The Act required public establishments to refrain from exercising discrimination based on race.
Is the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional in that it gives Congress the power to enact affirmative legislation in order to prohibit the forms of discrimination that are prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment?
Yes - The Civil Rights Act of 1875 is unconstitutional due to the fact that it gives Congress such powers.
The Fourteenth Amendment gives Congress only the power to enact legislation to correct state laws and practices that might infringe upon rights that are guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the Act does not give Congress the right to legislate affirmatively on such issues.
Congress is not authorized to act until a state has enacted a law or other policy and that law or policy perpetuates the forms of discrimination that are prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment.
As a result, The Civil Rights Act finds finds no support under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Supporters of the Act contend alternatively that it actually derives its authority from the Thirteenth Amendment. This argument also lacks merit. The Thirteenth Amendment, insofar as it grants Congress the power to make affirmative legislation, grants that power only in relation to the abolition of slavery. Supporters of the Act are essentially arguing that unequal treatment in public facilities amount to slavery. This argument is implausible.
Harlan, J., dissenting.
The majority has eviscerated the intent of the Fourteenth Amendment using clever language. It could not possibly be that Congress intended the rights of former slaves to be subjected to the whim of states governments, which might restrict those rights as they see fit. The Thirteenth Amendment was intended to eliminate all “badges” of slavery, not just the institution itself. Racial discrimination at the hands of inns and other public facilities are such a badge. Moreover, an essential part of the privileges and immunities secured by the Fourteenth Amendment is freedom from discrimination. Even if one adopts the majority’s view that a state violation of such rights must occur before Congress can take action, the current situation makes it clear that such a violation has occurred.