Hall v. Decuir

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95 U.S. 485 (1878), argued 17 Apr. 1877, decided 14 Jan. 1878 by vote of 9 to o; Waite for the Court, Clifford concurring. In Hall v. DeCuir, the Court overturned a Louisiana Supreme Court decision that had awarded damages authorized by a Louisiana statute to Josephine DeCuir, a black woman, who had been refused admission to a steamship's stateroom reserved for whites during her voyage between New Orleans and Hermitage, Louisiana. The Court's opinion by Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite held that the statute burdened interstate commerce because the steamship also traveled between Louisiana and Mississippi. Waite held that the statute regulated interstate commerce, something within the exclusive province of Congress. In the absence of congressional action, states could not require carriers engaged in interstate commerce to offer integrated facilities even for trips that took place solely within state boundaries. Waite did not consider whether Congress might have intended, through inaction, to permit the states to control some aspects of interstate commerce incidentally in the exercise of their police power over intrastate activities, a power later acknowledged in the Shreveport Rate Cases (1914).

The concurring opinion by Justice Nathan Clifford demonstrated the Court's concern with preserving racial custom. It included a defense of what would later be termed the “separate but equal” doctrine.

The Court inconsistently held in Louisville, New Orleans & Texas Railway Co. v. Mississippi (1890), that a state statute requiring segregation in intrastate commerce did not run afoul of Congress's commerce power. It was not until after World War II that the Court recognized the illogic of these holdings and relied on the Hall precedent to void state legislation mandating intrastate segregation, because of its impact on interstate commerce.

Robert J. Cottrol

Subjects: Law.

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