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Constitutional Law Keyed to Farber
The Civil Rights Cases
Citation:109 U.S. 3 (1883)
The last federal civil rights statute adopted during Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Act of 1875, provided that all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States, regardless of race or color, should without discrimination enjoy any and all public accommodations, such as inns and restaurants. Violation of the statute was a misdemeanor, and persons whose rights were violated could recover $500 for every offense. It was conceded that congress lacked any such power to pass the 1875 Act under Article I. The Court rejected an argument based on section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court understood section 1 of the Amendment only to reach state action, not private action like that of the defendants in this case. Accordingly, the Court reasoned, section 5’s authorization of legislative power to enforce section 1 allows Congress to adopt appropriate legislation for correcting the effects of such prohibited state law and state acts, and thus to render them effectually null, void and innocuous. In two cases, individuals of color were denied accommodations and privileges of an inn or hotel and refused by the conductor of the railroad company to allow the wife to ride in the ladies’ car for the reason that she was a person of African descent.
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