The Great Dissenter

John Marshall Harlan

John Marshall Harlan was an associate justice on the Supreme Court. He wrote many dissents that supported equal rights for blacks. He is known for being the only dissenting voice in the Civil Rights Cases(1883) and Plessy v. Ferguson(1896). The Civil Rights Cases(1883) said that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to make anti-discrimination laws. In the Plessy v. Ferguson(1896) case the Supreme Court decided that it was constitutional for Southern state governments to have laws requiring racial segregation. The Court believed that as long as facilities were equal in quality that segregation was legal. His dissent was a powerful defense of equal rights that the court would later imitate in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka(1954).

John Marshall Harlan did what he did because he believe that everyone should have equal opportunities. He knew that the result of the Civil Rights Cases(1883) would lead to widespread segregation of blacks in public life making them second-class citizens. In the Plessy v. Ferguson case he knew that state governments wouldn’t give equal facilities and resources to blacks, which is why he was the dissenting opinion. Harlan didn’t do it because he believed in racial equality but because he believed whites didn’t need assistance from segregation laws.

1.) How did it feel to have the only dissenting opinion on the court?

2.)Would you have ever thought that blacks would be as equal as they are today?

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