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Supreme Court Cases

Supreme Court Cases, Teaching Comprehensive History, January 2023

Number of Federal Voting Rights Prosecutions in the South

Source for numbers: Xi Wang, Trial of Democracy: Black Suffrage and Northern Republicans, 1860-1910 (Univ. Georgia Press, 1997)

  • 1871: 206
  • 1872: 603
  • 1873: 1,148
  • 1874: 890
  • 1875: 216
  • 1876: 108
  • 1877: 133
  • 1878: 23
  • 1879: 93
  • 1880: 53

< Economic Depression ends in 1879 and Republican James Garfield elected president in 1880; Republicans also regain House and Senate >

  • 1881: 177
  • 1882: 154
  • 1883: 201
  • 1884: 160
  • 1885: 107

< Democrat elected president in 1884, Grover Cleveland >

  • 1886: 8
  • 1887: 2

Fourteenth Amendment (1868)

Sec. 1: “No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Section 5: “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”

“State Action” Rule, promulgated by the Supreme Court

“The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment…is prohibitory in its character, and prohibitory upon the States. Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. at 10 (1883)

“It is State action…that is prohibited. Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject-matter of the amendment.” Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. at 11 (1883)

State Neglect or Refusal to Provide Equal Remedies and Equal Enforcement of the Law:

Equals = A Denial of the Equal Protection of the Law (a Rights Denial)

Equals = A Form of “State Action” under the Fourteenth Amendment

Provides: The basis for federal intervention to punish the perpetrator(s) of the original crime

“[T]he chief complaint is not that the laws of the State are unequal, but that even where the laws are just and equal on their face, yet, by a systematic maladministration of them, or a neglect or refusal to enforce their provisions, a portion of the people are denied equal protection under them. Whenever such a state of facts is clearly made out, I believe [Section Five of the Fourteenth Amendment] empowers Congress to step in and provide for doing justice to those persons who are thus denied equal protection. Now if the…pending bill can be so amended that it …shall employ no terms which assert the power of Congress to take jurisdiction of the subject until such denial be clearly made, and shall not in any way assume the original jurisdiction of the rights of private persons and of property within the state – with these conditions clearly expressed…I shall give it my hearty support.” (Congressional Globe, 42nd Cong., 1st sess. 153 (1871), Rep. James A. Garfield)

“[When a right is] denied or abridged by a state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude, either by withholding the right itself or the remedies which are given to other citizens to enforce it, then undoubtedly, congress has the power to pass laws to directly enforce the right and punish individuals for its violation, because that would be the only appropriate and efficient mode of enforcing the amendment.” United States v. Cruikshank, Circuit Opinion of Justice Bradley, 25 F. Cas. at 707 (1874)

“To have redress for injuries the same as all others have…[is] to have and enjoy the equal protection of the laws.” Personal Correspondence of Justice Bradley to Sen. Fredrick Frelinghuysen (July 19, 1874)

“The moment the State fails to comply with the duties enforced upon it, the United States is called on to interfere, but the interference of Congress, when a State is ready to punish a violation of these rights, is unnecessary, injudicious and illegal…When a State refuses this right, Congress has the power to pass laws to enforce the amendment. Congress has also the power to secure these rights against individuals.” Chicago Tribune, reporting on Justice Bradley’s Circuit Opinion in Cruikshank (June 28, 1874)

Centrist Republicanism vs. Radical Republicanism on the definition of freedom:

Centrist Republicanism: The rights listed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 define freedom under the Thirteenth Amendment

“Congress…by the Civil Rights Bill of 1866, passed in view of the Thirteenth Amendment…undertook to wipe out…the necessary incidents of slavery, constituting its substance and visible form; and to secure to all citizens of every race and color, and without regard to previous servitude, those fundamental rights which are the essence of civil freedom, namely, the same right to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to inherit, purchase, lease, sell and convey property, as is enjoyed by white citizens….Congress did not assume, under the authority given by the Thirteenth Amendment, to adjust what may be called the social rights of men and races in the community; but only to declare and vindicate those fundamental rights which appertain to the essence of citizenship, and the enjoyment or deprivation of which constitutes the essential distinction between freedom and slavery…

Civil Rights Cases (1883), affirming the Civil Rights Act of 1866, but designating access to public accommodations as a “social right,” not a “civil right,” and thus outside the scope of Congressional power under the Thirteenth Amendment.

The Civil Rights Cases invalidated the public accommodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Radical Republicanism: Public accommodation rights are included in the definition of freedom under the Thirteenth Amendment.

“The rights which Congress, by the act of 1875, endeavored to secure and protect are legal, not social rights… Today it is the colored race which is denied, by corporations and individuals wielding public authority, rights fundamental in their freedom and citizenship. At some future time, it may be that some other race will fall under the ban of race discrimination…The supreme law of the land has decreed that no authority shall be exercised in this country upon the basis of discrimination, in respect of civil rights, against freemen and citizens because of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude."

Justice John Marshall Harlan, dissenting, in the Civil Rights Cases, designating public accommodation rights as “civil rights” and within the scope of Congressional power under the Thirteenth Amendment.