The Waite Court (1874–88)

Racial Discrimination/civil Rights

Why did the Court strike down the Civil Rights Act of 1875?

The Court invalidated the Civil Rights Act of 1875 because it determined that the law reached beyond Congress’s power under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. The majority believed that Congress did not have the power to prohibit simple private wrongs, as opposed to wrongs committed by governmental actors. Justice Joseph P. Bradley explained:

In this connection it is proper to state that civil rights, such as are guarantied by the constitution against state aggression, cannot be impaired by the wrongful acts of individuals, unsupported by state authority in the shape of laws, customs, or judicial or executive proceedings. The wrongful act of an individual, unsupported by any such authority, is simply a private wrong, or a crime of that individual; an invasion of the rights of the injured party, it is true, whether they affect his person, his property, or his reputation; but if not sanctioned in some way by the state, or not done under state authority, his rights remain in full force, and may presumably be vindicated by resort to the laws of the state for redress.


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