Facts of the Case

Provided by Oyez

The Civil Rights Act of 1875 affirmed the equality of all persons in the enjoyment of transportation facilities, in hotels and inns, and in theaters and places of public amusement. Though privately owned, these businesses were like public utilities, exercising public functions for the benefit of the public and, thus, subject to public regulation. In five separate cases, a black person was denied the same accommodations as a white person in violation of the 1875 Act.



  1. Does the Civil Rights Act of 1875 violate the 10th Amendment of the Constitution which reserves all powers not granted to the national government to the states or to the people?


  1. Differentiating between state and private action, the majority ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment did not permit the federal government to prohibit discriminatory behavior by private parties. Thus, Sections 1 and 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 were unconstitutional because they exceeded Congress's authority under the Fourteenth Amendment by purporting to regulate the conduct of private individuals. The Court held the Act likewise exceeded Congress’s authority under the Thirteenth Amendment, which bars involuntary servitude and is restricted to prohibiting ownership of slaves, not other forms of discriminatory conduct.

    Justice Harlan advocated for a broader interpretation of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. He pointed to the public function that these private places of accommodation serve. Harlan argued the line between state and private action is often blurred, such as how private railroads provide the government function of facilitating travel. He suggested that restrictions on the right to travel might violate the Thirteenth Amendment prohibition against involuntary servitude, and argued that the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment may also be implicated. 

2019 National Lawyers Convention


The Mayflower Hotel
1127 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036