CourtSpeak: Plessy v. Ferguson
“Separate but Equal” Accommodations Case (1896)

Introduction Read more from
Chapter The Fuller Court (1888–1910)

Justice Henry Billings Brown (majority): “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority…. If the two races are to meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of each other’s merits, and a voluntary consent of individuals…. If one race be inferior to the other socially, the Constitution of the United States cannot put them on the same plane.”

Justice John Marshall Harlan (dissenting): “But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant ruling class of citizens. 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 law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. 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.”


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