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Civil Rights Cases (1883) | Study Guide

U.S. Supreme Court

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Course Hero. "Civil Rights Cases (1883) Study Guide." November 8, 2019. Accessed January 27, 2023.


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U.S. Supreme Court

Year Decided



Primary Source


U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed to help protect African Americans from discrimination and ensure they had the full benefits of U.S. citizenship.
  • The 1883 Civil Rights Cases, a set of five cases merged into one Supreme Court case, challenged Sections 1 and 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1875.
  • Section 1 of the 1875 law guaranteed access to public places and amusements (such as inns and theaters) to everyone, regardless of race. Section 2 authorized prosecution of anyone who tried to prevent such access.
  • The court ruled 8–1 that Sections 1 and 2 of the 1875 law were unconstitutional.
  • Justice Joseph P. Bradley (1813–92) wrote the majority opinion. His principle argument was that the discrimination in question in the cases was perpetrated by individuals, not by the states.
  • Bradley also argued the 14th Amendment allows Congress to take corrective action against states but does not give Congress authority to pass laws broadly protecting rights.
  • Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911) wrote a dissenting opinion, arguing that Congress does have sufficient power to create laws such as the Civil Rights Act of 1875.
  • Harlan further argued that the intention of Congress also had to be considered in favor of the 1875 law.


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