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Civil Rights Cases

A Challenge To Civil Rights


United States in four cases, Mr. and Mrs. Richard A. Robinson in one case.


Stanley, Michael Ryan, Nichols, Singleton, Memphis & Charleston RR

Appellants' Claim

That their civil rights had been violated under the Civil Rights Act of 1 March 1875 when various individuals and companies had denied them access to accommodations and privileges of an inn, hotel, theater, and railroad on the grounds of race.

Chief Lawyers for Appellants

Samuel F. Phillips, U.S. Solicitor General Phillips; William M. Randolph for the Robinsons

Chief Lawyers for Appellees

(None for first four cases); William Y. C. Humes, David Postern for Memphis & Charleston RR.

Justices for the Court

Joseph P. Bradley (writing for the Court), Samuel Blatchford, Stephen Johnson Field, Horace Gray, Stanley Matthews, Samuel Freeman Miller, Morrison Remick Waite, William Burnham Woods

Justices Dissenting

John Marshall Harlan I


Washington, D.C.

Date of Decision

15 October 1883


Overturned the constitutionality of the 1875 Civil Rights Act.


The Court ruled 8-1 that Congress did not have the constitutional power, under either the original Constitution, nor under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, to punish racial discrimination by individuals. With this decision the Court nearly completed the process of nullifying legislation passed during the Reconstruction era designed to grant equal rights to African Americans.

Related Cases

  • Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896).
  • Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964).
  • Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968).

Further Readings

  • Blaustein, Albert, and Robert Zangrando. Civil Rights and African Americans. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1968.
  • Johnson, John W. Historic U.S. Court Cases, 1690-1990: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland Publishing, 1992.
  • Logan, Rayford. The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901. New York: Dial Press, 1954.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917