The Browser Review Daily Letter 149

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Court Cripples Civil Rights Act


The Literary Digest,  July 1913

NEW YORK — The practical nullification of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1875, by a decision of the United States Supreme Court, suggests to the Charleston News and Courier that "the folly of undertaking to secure social equality for the negro by law" has been made clear to the satisfaction "even of the North".

Nor is it to be wondered at, this paper adds, that laws "enacted in heat and bitterness" should produce unexpected results, and it finds an anomalous development in the fact that the Fourteenth Amendment, designed to protect the negro, should of all amendments have become "the prop and bulwark of salvation to the vested interests of America."

On the other hand, it is the view of the New York World that to-day the negro has really more rights than "it was attempted to secure for him by act of Congress after the Civil War." He has won these rights for himself, the World says, with the assistance of time, for in such difficult matters "custom slowly and painfully finds solutions that written statutes fail to provide."

In the Civil Rights Act, we are reminded by press reports, Charles Sumner sought "to crown the achievement of the Fourteenth Amendment" with Federal legislation making it a criminal offense to discriminate against negroes in hotels, theaters, public eating-places, and railroad carriages. According to the Fourteenth Amendment, "no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States," and with this provision the attempt was made to enforce social equality between the races.

But the amendment did not work as expected, the Springfield Republican says, for the reason that "its prohibition was directed against States in their legislation, whereas it carried no guaranty against infringement of a citizen's civil rights by fellow citizens. The Federal Act of 1875 thus broke down when the attempt was made to enforce it against hotel-keepers, theater managers, and railroad companies in the several States".

The case just decided, the Republican continues, puts the Supreme Court on record as declaring the Civil Rights Act "null and void on the sea, the navigable waters of the United States and the Territories," and the decision "seems sound law."

The facts of the case are thus recited: Mary F. Butts, a negress, bought a first-class ticket on the Merchants' and Miners' Transportation line from Boston. On her trip to Norfolk and return she was denied the same sleeping and eating accommodations as were furnished white people, and she brought suit for $6,000 damages under the Civil Rights Act.

The Republican believes the decision against her to be sound law in that there are "no guaranties of personal liberty or equality" to cover such a complaint as that made by the plaintiff outside of the Fourteenth Amendment, of whose curious workings it says: "The Fourteenth Amendment was primarily intended for the protection of the colored race just out of slavery. The only clause in it that has vitally affected the country is that one which says that no State shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

"That has been a godsend to corporations in our time against legislation deemed by the courts confiscatory in character. The Workman's Compensation Act of New York was declared null and void because of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the railroads which have won recently in the United States Supreme Court against the rate decree of the State Railroad Commissioners have that same due-process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to thank.

"The negro gets nothing. Here is one of the travesties of constitutional history."

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