Hall v. DeCuir,
95 U.S. 485 (1877)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hall v. DeCuir, 95 U.S. 485 (1877)

Hall v. DeCuir

95 U.S. 485


The Supreme Court of Louisiana having decided that an Act of the General Assembly approved Feb. 23, 1869, entitled "An Act to enforce the thirteenth article of the Constitution of this state, and to regulate the licenses mentioned in said thirteenth article," requires those engaged in the transportation of passengers among the states to give all persons traveling within that state, upon vessels employed in such business, equal rights and privileges in all parts of the vessel, without distinction on account of race or color, and subjects to an action for damages the owner of such a vessel who excludes colored passengers on account of their color from the cabin set apart by him for the use of whites during the passage; this Court, accepting as conclusive this construction of the act by the highest court of the state, holds that the act, so far as it has such operation, is a regulation of interstate commerce, and therefore, to that extent, unconstitutional and void.

By the thirteenth article of the Constitution of Louisiana it is provided that "all persons shall enjoy equal rights and privileges upon any conveyance of a public character." By an act of the General Assembly entitled "An Act to enforce the thirteenth article of the constitution of this state, and to regulate the licenses mentioned in said thirteenth article," approved Feb. 23, 1869, it was enacted as follows:

"SECTION 1. All persons engaged within this state in the business of common carriers of passengers shall have the right to refuse to admit any person to their railroad cars, street cars, steamboats, or other watercrafts, stage coaches, omnibuses, or other vehicles, or

Page 95 U. S. 486

to expel any person therefrom after admission when such person shall, on demand, refuse or neglect to pay the customary fare or when such person shall be of infamous character, or shall be guilty, after admission to the conveyance of the carrier, of gross, vulgar, or disorderly conduct, or who shall commit any act tending to injure the business of the carrier, prescribed for the management of his business, after such rules and regulations shall have been made known, provided said rules and regulations make no discrimination on account of race or color, and shall have the right to refuse any person admission to such conveyance where there is not room or suitable accommodations; and except in cases above enumerated, all persons engaged in the business of common carriers of passengers are forbidden to refuse admission to their conveyance or to expel therefrom any person whomsoever."

"SEC. 4. For a violation of any of the provisions of the first and second sections of this act, the party injured shall have a right of action to recover any damage, exemplary as well as actual, which he may sustain before any court of competent jurisdiction."

Acts of 1869, p. 37; Rev.Stat. 1870, p. 93.

Benson, the defendant below, was the master and owner of the Governor Allen, a steamboat enrolled and licensed under the laws of the United States for the coasting trade and plying as a regular packet for the transportation of freight and passengers between New Orleans, in the State of Louisiana, and Vicksburg, in the State of Mississippi, touching at the intermediate landings both within and without Louisiana as occasion required. The defendant in error, plaintiff below, a person of color, took passage upon the boat on her trip up the river from New Orleans for Hermitage, a landing place within Louisiana, and being refused accommodations on account of her color in the cabin specially set apart for white persons, brought this action in the Eighth District Court for the Parish of New Orleans under the provisions of the act above recited, to recover damages for her mental and physical suffering on that account. Benson, by way of defense, insisted among other things that the statute was inoperative and void as to him in respect to the matter complained of because, as to his business, it was an attempt to "regulate commerce among the states," and therefore in conflict with Art. I, Sec. 8, par. 3, of the Constitution of the United States. The district court of the parish

Page 95 U. S. 487

held that the statute made it imperative upon Benson to admit Mrs. DeCuir to the privileges of the cabin for white persons, and that it was not a regulation of commerce among the states, and therefore not void. After trial, judgment was given against Benson for $1,000, from which he appealed to the supreme court of the state, where the rulings of the district court were sustained.

This decision of the supreme court is here for reexamination under sec. 709 of the Revised Statutes.

Benson having died, Hall, his administratrix, was substituted in this Court.

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