Civil Rights Act of 1875
Civil Rights Act of 1875[1]

The Wrongdoings of the Supreme Court Justice


The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was one of the main pieces of Reconstruction legislation passed by Congress after the Civil War. Other laws enacted included the Civil Rights Act of 1866, four Reconstruction Acts enacted in 1867 and 1868, and three Reconstruction Enforcement Acts in 1870 and 1871.

When first introduced in 1870, the Civil Rights Act not only banned discrimination in public accommodations, transportation, and jury duty, it also prohibited racial discrimination in schools. However, in the face of growing public opinion favoring enforced racial segregation, Republican lawmakers realized that the bill had no chance of passing unless all references to equal and integrated education were removed.

Q: When did the Civil Rights Act, which mandated an end to racial segregation in public accommodations, pass?
A: Twice. Once in 1875, and once in 1964.


Legacy of the Civil Rights Act of 1875


Over the many long days of debate on the Civil Rights Act bill, lawmakers heard some of the most impassioned and impactful speeches ever delivered on the floor of the House of Representatives. Relating their personal experiences of discrimination, African American Republican representatives carried the debated in favor of the bill.

"Every day my life and property are exposed, are left to the mercy of others and will be so long as every hotel-keeper, railroad conductor, and steamboat captain can refuse me with impunity," said Rep. James Rapier of Alabama, adding famously, "After all, this question resolves itself into this: either I am a man or I am not a man."

After nearly five years of debate, amendment, and compromise the Civil Rights Act of 1875 won final approval, passing in the House be a vote of 162 to 99. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was a United States federal law enacted during the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era that guaranteed African Americans equal access to public accommodations and public transportation.

The law read, in part: "… all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude."

The law also prohibited the exclusion of any otherwise qualified citizen from jury duty because of their race and provided that lawsuits brought under the law must be tried in the federal courts, rather than state courts.

The law was passed by the 43rd United States Congress on February 4, 1875, and signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1875.

Parts of the law were later ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883.

We don't hear much about the 1875 version because it was struck down by the Supreme Court in the Civil Rights Cases ruling of 1883, made up of five separate challenges to the 1875 Civil Rights Act. Had the Supreme Court simply upheld the 1875 civil rights bill, U.S. civil rights history would have been dramatically different.


Supreme Court Challenge


Considering slavery and racial segregation to be different issues, many white citizens in the Northern and the Southern states challenged Reconstruction laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1875, claiming they unconstitutionally infringed of their personal freedom of choice.

In an 8-1 decision issued on October 15, 1883, the Supreme Court declared key sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to be unconstitutional.

As part of its decision in the combined Civil Rights Cases, the Court held that while the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited racial discrimination by the state and local governments, it did not grant the federal government the power to prohibit private individuals and organizations from discriminating on the basis of race.

In addition, the Court held that the Thirteenth Amendment had been intended only to ban slavery and did not prohibit racial discrimination in public accommodations.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 would be the last federal civil rights law enacted until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 during the early stages of the modern Civil Rights Movement.

Important Supreme Court Cases

[2][3]

#1.
The Judiciary Act of 1789 presumably granted the Court the power to issue a writ.[4] The U.S. Constitution gives the Judicial Branch the role of interpreting the laws. In 1803, the power of the Judicial Branch was more clearly defined with the landmark supreme court case Marbury v. Madison. Marbury v. Madison was a historic case that established the precedent of judicial review. The ruling written by Chief Justice John Marshall cemented the authority of the Judicial Branch to declare a law unconstitutional and firmly established the checks and balances the founding fathers had intended. The Court's decision was delivered in 1803 and continues to be invoked when cases involve the question of judicial review.

In short, it was the first time the Supreme Court declared an act of Congress unconstitutional. This historic court case established the concept of Judicial Review, the ability of the Judiciary Branch to declare a law unconstitutional. This case brought the judicial branch of the government on a more even power basis with the legislative and executive branches. The Founding Fathers expected the branches of government to act as checks and balances on one another.

The historic court case Marbury v. Madison accomplished this end, thereby setting the precedent for numerous historic decisions in the future.

#2.
John Marshall, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was the Chief Justice presiding over the key McCulloch v. Maryland case. In McCulloch v. Maryland, the Supreme Court allowed for implied powers of the federal government according to the "necessary and proper" clause of the Constitution. This case allowed the powers of the federal government to expand and evolve beyond that specifically written in the Constitution.

#3.
When a slave petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for his freedom, the Court ruled against him—also ruling that the Bill of Rights didn't apply to African Americans. If it did, the majority ruling argued, then African Americans would be permitted "the full liberty of speech in public and in private," "to hold public meetings upon political affairs," and "to keep and carry arms wherever they went." In 1856, both the justices in the majority and the white aristocracy they represented found this idea too horrifying to contemplate. In 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment made it law.

#4.
Scott v. Sanford (Dred Scott Decision) - 1857
Dred Scott (1795 - 1858).
Scott v. Stanford had major implications about the condition of slavery. The court case struck down the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas-Nebraska Act and ruled that just because a slave was living in a "free" state, they were still slaves. The ruling increased tensions between the North and South in the build up to the Civil War.

#5.
African American students at a segregated school following the supreme court case Plessy v Ferguson established Separate But Equal, 1896. Plessy v. Ferguson was a Supreme Court decision that upheld the separate but equal doctrine. This ruling interpreted the thirteenth amendment to mean that separate facilities were allowed for different races. This case was a cornerstone of segregation in the South.

#6.
Korematsu v. United States upheld the conviction of Frank Korematsu for defying an order to be interned with other Japanese-Americans during World War II. This ruling placed the security of the United States over individual rights and again has entered the political landscape with the detention of suspected terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay prison under President George W. Bush.

#7. [5]
In 1883 Alabama, interracial marriage meant two to seven years' hard labor in a state penitentiary. When a black man named Tony Pace and a white woman named Mary Cox challenged the law, the Supreme Court upheld it—on grounds that the law, inasmuch as it prevented whites from marrying blacks and blacks from marrying whites, was race-neutral and did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling was finally overturned in Loving v. Virginia (1967). There are some States that still had the marriage law in effect into the year 2,000.

#8.
Ozawa v. United States (1922) A Japanese immigrant, Takeo Ozawa, attempted to become a full U.S. citizen, despite a 1906 policy limiting naturalization to whites and African Americans. Ozawa's argument was a novel one: Rather than challenging the constitutionality of the statute himself (which, under the racist Court, would have probably been a waste of time anyway), he simply attempted to establish that Japanese Americans were white. The Court rejected this logic.

#9.
United States v. Thind (1923) An Indian-American U.S. Army veteran named Bhagat Singh Thind attempted the same strategy as Takeo Ozawa, but his attempt at naturalization was rejected in a ruling establishing that Indians, too, are not white. Well, the ruling technically referred to "Hindus" (ironic considering that Thind was actually a Sikh, not a Hindu), but the terms were used interchangeably at the time. Three years later he was quietly granted citizenship in New York; he went on to earn a Ph.D. and teach at the University of California at Berkeley.

#10.
Lum v. Rice (1927) In 1924, Congress passed the Oriental Exclusion Act to dramatically reduce immigration from Asia—but Asian Americans born in the United States were still citizens, and one of these citizens, a nine-year-old girl named Martha Lum, faced a catch-22. Under compulsory attendance laws, she had to attend school—but she was Chinese and she lived in Mississippi, which had racially segregated schools and not enough Chinese students to warrant funding a separate Chinese school. Lum's family sued to try to allow her to attend the well-funded local white school, but the Court would have none of it.

#11.
Hirabayashi v. United States (1943) During World War II, President Roosevelt issued an executive order severely restricting the rights of Japanese Americans and ordering 110,000 to be relocated to internment camps. Gordon Hirabayashi, a student at the University of Washington, challenged the executive order before the Supreme Court--and lost.

#12.
Korematsu v. United States (1944) Fred Korematsu also challenged the executive order and lost in a more famous and explicit ruling that formally established that individual rights are not absolute and may be suppressed at will during wartime. The ruling, generally considered one of the worst in the history of the Court, has been almost universally condemned over the past six decades.

#13.
Most people are familiar with the phrase "separate but equal," the never-achieved standard that defined racial segregation until Brown v. Board of Education (1954), but not everybody knows that it comes from this ruling, where Supreme Court justices bowed to political pressure and found an interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment that would still allow them to keep public institutions segregated.

When three black families in Richmond County, Virginia faced the closing of the area's only public black high school, they petitioned the Court to allow their children to finish their education at the white high school instead. It only took the Supreme Court three years to violate its own "separate but equal" standard by establishing that if there was no suitable black school in a given district, black students would simply have to do without an education.

The Civil Rights Act in Congress

[6]

Initially intended to implement the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 traveled a long and bumpy five-year journey to final passage.

The bill was first introduced in 1870 by Republican Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, widely regarded as one of the most influential civil rights advocates in Congress. In drafting the bill, Sen. Sumner was advised by John Mercer Langston, a prominent African American attorney and abolitionist who would later be named the first dean of the Howard University law department.

In considering his Civil Rights Act to be the key to achieving the highest goals of Reconstruction, Sumner once stated, "Very few measures of equal importance have ever been presented." Sadly, Sumner did not survive to see his bill voted on, dying at age 63 of a heart attack in 1874. On his deathbed, Sumner pleaded to famed African-American social reformer abolitionist, and statesman Frederick Douglass, "Don’t let the bill fail.".

When first introduced in 1870, the Civil Rights Act not only banned discrimination in public accommodations, transportation, and jury duty, it also prohibited racial discrimination in schools. However, in the face of growing public opinion favoring enforced racial segregation, Republican lawmakers realized that the bill had no chance of passing unless all references to equal and integrated education were removed.

Over the many long days of debate on the Civil Rights Act bill, lawmakers heard some of the most impassioned and impactful speeches ever delivered on the floor of the House of Representatives. Relating their personal experiences of discrimination, African American Republican representatives carried the debated in favor of the bill.

"Every day my life and property are exposed, are left to the mercy of others and will be so long as every hotel-keeper, railroad conductor, and steamboat captain can refuse me with impunity," said Rep. James Rapier of Alabama, adding famously, "After all, this question resolves itself into this: either I am a man or I am not a man."

After nearly five years of debate, amendment, and compromise the Civil Rights Act of 1875 won final approval, passing in the House be a vote of 162 to 99.

Impact

[7]

Stripped of all protections against discrimination and segregation in education, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 had little practical impact on racial equality during the eight years it was in force before being struck down by the Supreme Court.

Despite the law’s lack of immediate impact, many provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 were eventually adopted by Congress during the civil rights movement as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act). Enacted as part of the Great Society social reform program of President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 permanently outlawed segregated public schools in America.

References


[1] Longley, R. (2018). About the US Civil Rights Act of 1875. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/civil-rights-act-1875-4129782

[2] Kelly, M. (2018). 7 Important Supreme Court Cases. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/list-of-supreme-court-cases-104970

[3] Head, T. (2019). 10 Racist Supreme Court Rulings in US History. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/racist-supreme-court-rulings-721615

[4] Kelly, M. (2019). Marbury v. Madison - Supreme Court Case. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/marbury-v-madison-104792

[5] Head, T. (2019). Interracial Marriage Laws History & Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/interracial-marriage-laws-721611

[6][7] Longley, R. (2018). About the US Civil Rights Act of 1875. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/civil-rights-act-1875-4129782