plesst v ferguson rethorical analysis
May 10, 2014
A Right to Classify?: An Analysis of Justice Harlan’s Dissent on the Plessy Case
Commonly referred to as one of the most humiliating cases in the U.S Supreme Court, Plessy v Ferguson was the first case to question the constitutionality of segregation laws on a national level. The principles in question were controversial, and the dilemma surrounding the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Plessy case firmly laid upon the interpretation of the constitution. On one hand the majority decision upheld the “separate but equal” law through a strict interpretation of the Reconstruction amendments, and on the other there was the rather loose interpretation of Justice Harlan’s dissent—which advocated for a ruling evaluated and questioned both the intents and motives behind the Louisiana law. In an outcome of 8 to 1, the Supreme Court ruled that separate but equal and segregation laws, were constitutional. The majority decision had agreed that the law in question did not interfere in anyway with the diction of the constitution and concluded that states were free to enforce segregation laws if they so desired.
Yet Despite the overall decision Justice Harlan persisted that the law was unconstitutional. He accused the law of interfering with the goals of the Reconstruction amendments and claimed that segregation laws not only categorized African Americans as an inferior race but were also a violation of both a citizen’s personal liberty and of the core theme behind the 13th and 14th amendments. He concluded that the constitution was “color-blind” and did not call for laws that imposed a caste or class system in America. Ultimately, Justice Harlan contended against the majority decision by proclaiming that the constitution propagated equality to all citizens regardless of race; by claiming that the law desecrated personal liberties; and by resurfacing the drives behind the Louisiana segregation law. In the end, Harlan’s