109 U.S. 3, 3 S.Ct. 18, 27 L.Ed, 835 ( 1883)
Five cases involving the Civil Rights Act, passed by Congress
in 1875, were decided by this decision. The Act, which was
intended to implement the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amend-
ments, made it a misdemeanor to deny any person equal rights
and privileges in inns, theaters and amusement places, and
transportation facilities, regardless of color or previous condi-
tion of servitude. Penalties for violations were provided.
MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court. . . .
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 essence of the law is, not to declare broadly that all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances, and theatres; but that such enjoyment shall not be subject to any conditions applicable only to citizens of a particular race or color, or who had been in a previous condition of servitude. . . .
Has congress constitutional power to make such a law? Of course, no one will contend that the power to pass it was contained in the Constitution before the adoption of the last three amendments. The power is sought, first, in the Fourteenth Amendment, and the views and arguments of distinguished senators, advanced while the law was under consideration, claiming authority to pass it by virtue of that amendment, are the principal arguments adduced in favor of the power. We have carefully considered those arguments, as was due to the eminent ability of those who put them forward, and have felt, in all its force,
the weight of authority which always invests a law that congress deems itself competent to pass. But the responsibility of an independent judgment is now thrown upon this court; and we are bound to exercise it according to the best lights we have.
The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment (which is the one relied on), after declaring who shall be citizens of the United States, and of the several States, is prohibitory in its character, and prohibitory upon the States. It declares that:
"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
It is State action of a particular character that is prohibited. Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject-matter of the amendment. It has a deeper and broader scope. It nullifies and makes void all State legislation, and State action of every kind, which impairs the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, or which injures them in life, liberty or property without due process of law, or which denies to any of them the
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Publication information: Book title: American Constitutional Law:Introductory Essays & Selected Cases. Contributors: Alpheus Thomas Mason - Author, William M. Beaney - Author. Publisher: Prentice Hall. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1954. Page number: 465.
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