Justice John Marshall Harlan wrote the dissent.
While there may be in Louisiana persons of different races who are
not citizens of the United States, the words in the act 'white and
colored races' necessarily include all citizens of the United States of
both races residing in that state. So that we have before us a state
enactment that compels, under penalties, the separation of the two races
in railroad passenger coaches, and makes it a crime for a citizen of
either race to enter a coach that has been assigned to citizens of the
other race. Thus, the state regulates the use of a public highway by
citizens of the United States solely upon the basis of race.
However apparent the injustice of such legislation may be, we have
only to consider whether it is consistent with the constitution of the
The 13th amendment does not permit the withholding or the
deprivation of any right necessarily inhering in freedom. It not only
struck down the institution of slavery as previously existing in the
United States, but it prevents the imposition of any burdens or
disabilities that constitute badges of slavery or servitude. . . . But,
that amendment having been found inadequate to the protection of the
rights of those who had been in slavery, it was followed by the
14th amendment . . . declaring that 'all persons born or
naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction
thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they
reside,' and that 'no state shall make or enforce any law which shall
abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;
nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property
without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its
jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.' These two amendments
[13th and 14th], if enforced according to their true intent
and meaning, will protect all the civil rights that pertain to freedom
The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country.
And so it is, in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth, and
in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time, if it
remains true to its great heritage, and holds fast to the principles of
constitutional liberty. 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 present decision, it may well be apprehended, will not only
stimulate aggressions, more or less brutal and irritating, upon the
admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that
it is possible, by means of state enactments, to defeat the beneficient
purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they
adopted the recent amendments of the constitution, by one of which the
blacks of this country were made citizens of the United States and of
the states in which they respectively reside, and whose privileges and
immunities, as citizens, the states are forbidden to abridge. Sixty
millions of whites are in no danger from the presence here of eight
millions of blacks. The destinies of the two races, in this country, are
indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that
the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to
be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse
race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of
distrust between these races, than state enactments which, in fact,
proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded
that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white
citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such
legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.
Questions to Consider
According to Justice Harlan, what is the basic question before the court?
In arguing that the 13th and 14th Amendments in
fact do apply to the Louisiana act, Justice Harlan particularly refers
to the amendments' "true intent and meaning." What do you think he
believed were the amendments' true intent and meaning?
In your opinion, does Justice Harlan's constitutional
interpretation of the 13th and 14th Amendments effectively
challenge the majority's interpretation of the same amendments in this
According to Justice Harlan, what effects will this type of legislation have on the United States and its citizens?
What does Justice Harlan believe is the real meaning behind the legislation enacted in Louisiana? Do you agree? Why or why not?