Lesson Plan: Landmark Supreme Court Case: Civil Rights Cases (1883)

Reconstruction and the Historical Background of the Civil Rights Cases of 1883

U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Peter Kirsanow and Howard Law School Dean Danielle Holley-Walker discussed the reconstruction era and the background of the landmark Civil Rights Cases of 1883.

Description

Civil Rights Cases (1883) were a series of five cases that were consolidated and decided on as a whole. Despite the post-Civil War Reconstruction Period, the Court in an 8-1 decision held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was not constitutional under the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments. This set the tone for the legality of the Jim Crow era of segregation for African Americans. This lesson explores the background of the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, the Constitutional questions relating to them and the impact of the ruling.

Procedures

  • STEP 1.

    As a class, view the following video and answer the questions below to lay the foundation for students to understand this case:

  • VIDEO CLIP: Reconstruction and the Historical Background of the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 (3:31)

    • Explain rights and treatment of African-Americans during the Reconstruction Era.

    • What does Mr. Kirsanow mean by this era being tumultuous? What examples does he provide?
  • STEP 2.

    Students can either work independently or in groups to view the following video clips. They should take notes using the handout below:

    Handout: Supreme Court Case: Civil Rights Cases (1883) (Google Doc)

  • VIDEO CLIP: The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments and the Constitutional Basis for the 1883 Civil Rights Cases (2:21)

    • What does the 13th Amendment do? Why is Section 2 important?

    • What are included in the different parts of the 14th Amendment?

    • Explain what the 15th Amendment does.
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Civil Rights Act of 1875 and the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 (5:23)

    • How did Frederick Douglass and Senator Charles Sumner work together to pass legislation to ensure full citizenship for African-Americans?

    • Explain what the Civil Rights Act of 1875 did.

    • How were the five Civil Rights Cases of 1883 similar? Why were they consolidated?

    • How did people react to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1875?
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Majority Opinion in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 (4:46)

    • What was the decision in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883?

    • What is meant by the State Action Doctrine? * How do you think this is different than actions by private entities (i.e. individuals and businesses)?

    • What does Ms. Danielle Holley-Walker mean by this decision being "activist?"

    • Explain the arguments that Bradley includes in his majority opinion that relate to the 13th and 14th Amendments.
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Importance of the Dissenting Opinion in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 (4:08)

    • Why was Justice John Harlan's dissent important to civil rights leaders following Reconstruction?

    • What arguments did Justice John Harlan make in his dissent?

    • How does Mr. Kirsanow argue that Harlan's dissent is incorrect?
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Impact of the 1883 Civil Rights Cases on African-Americans (2:32)

    • Explain how black Americans were affected by the ruling in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883.

    • What laws and policies were put into place after the ruling?
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Civil Rights Cases of 1883 and the Commerce Clause (2:24)

    • How was the Civil Rights Act of 1875 similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

    • What parts of the Constitution were used to justify the Civil Rights Act of 1964? How was this different than Civil Rights Cases of 1883?

    • How did the 1883 Civil Rights Cases impact the enforcement of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments?
  • VIDEO CLIP: The Legacy of the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 (2:21)

    • Summarize the impact of the Civil Rights Cases of 1883.
  • STEP 3.

    As a class, discuss the significance of this case, the precedent it set, and its legacy.

  • EXTENSION ACTIVITIES:

    Comparing Supreme Court Cases- Compare and contrast the Constitutional arguments that are made in the Civil Rights Cases (1883) to those in the following Supreme Court cases:

  • EXTENSION ACTIVITIES:

    Additional Writing Prompts-

    • Should the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause be applied to discrimination by non-state actors like private businesses and individuals? Support your argument with information from the Constitution and the Civil Rights Cases of 1883.

    • How does the Commerce Clause of the Constitution provide Congress the power to pass anti-discrimination legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

    • How would the history of the United States be different if the Civil Rights Act of 1875 been upheld?

Additional Resources

Vocabulary

  • 13th Amendment
  • 14th Amendment
  • 15th Amendment
  • Brown V. Board Of Education
  • Charles Sumner
  • Civil Rights Act Of 1875
  • Civil Rights Act Of 1964
  • Commerce Clause
  • Constitution
  • Dissenting Opinion
  • Due Process
  • Frederick Douglass
  • Jurisprudence
  • Justice John Harlan
  • Ku Klux Klan
  • Legislation
  • Literacy Test
  • Majority Opinion
  • Poll Tax
  • Privileges And Immunities
  • Public Accommodation
  • Public Conveyances
  • Reconstruction
  • Regulate
  • Rule Of Law
  • State Action Doctrine
  • Substance And Spirit
  • Supreme Court

Topics

Civil Rights & Civil LibertiesSupreme Court CasesU.S. History

Grades

High SchoolUniversity