The Waite Court (1874–88)


The Court invalidated a state antidiscrimination law based on the Commerce Clause in what decision?

The Waite Court unanimously ruled in Hall v. DeCuir (1878) that an African American woman denied entry to a statesroom on a vessel traveling between Louisiana and Mississippi could not recover damages because the application of the statute infringed on Congress’s interstate commerce powers. Josephine DeCuir sued Mr. Hall, the operator of a Mississippi steamboat, under an 1869 Louisiana law that prohibited racial discrimination in public transportation. However, the Waite Court, in an opinion written by the chief justice, reasoned that the statute burdened interstate commerce by imposing a Louisiana law on a vessel that traveled in interstate commerce amongst states other than Louisiana.

Chief Justice Waite wrote:

“But we think it may safely be said that State legislation which seeks to impose a direct burden upon inter-state commerce, or to interfere directly with its freedom, does encroach upon the exclusive power of Congress. The statute now under consideration, in our opinion, occupies that position. It does not act upon the business through the local instruments to be employed after coming within the State, but directly upon the business as it comes into the State from without or goes out from within. While it purports only to control the carrier when engaged within the State, it must necessarily influence his conduct to some extent in the management of his business throughout his entire voyage. His disposition of passengers taken up and put down within the State, or taken up within to be carried without, cannot but affect in a greater or less degree those taken up without and brought within, and sometimes those taken up and put down without. A passenger in the cabin set apart for the use of whites without the State must, when the boat comes within, share the accommodations of that cabin with such colored persons as may come on board afterwards, if the law is enforced.”


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