Constitutional Interpretation

Constitutional Interpretation

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The Act 111 of the law of the State of Louisiana prescribes different accommodations for different races on railroads, which includes separate railway cars. However, the accommodations must be kept equal. In this case, Plessy who is one-eighth black is hired to take part in an act of choreographed civil disobedience in protest against this law. The plan is to have Plessy thrown off the railway car and be arrested for violating the Separate Car Act, in order to give the citizens a chance to protest against it and have it removed. Plessy was arrested for violating the Act, giving the citizens a chance to challenge the act with the aim of having it overturned because according to them, racial segregation was an illogical usage of state power, which could not be allowed to happen.


In this case, the Supreme Court supported the Louisiana statute that stated that railroads should provide equal but separate accommodations for the whites and African Americans and disallowed persons from boarding rail cars that their race had not been assigned. The Court dismissed Plessy's arguments citing the Fourteenth Amendment, and argued that there is no way in which the Louisiana statute went against it. Furthermore, a large proportion of the Jury rejected the assertion that the Louisiana law led to an implication of blacks’ inferiority. Instead, it adopted a position that law separated the two races as a principle of public policy. In his summary, Justice Brown stated that the fallacy of the plaintiff was the assumption that the separation of the races created inferiority complex. This is because there was no difference in quality between the types of cars assigned to both races. Plessy was found guilty of the refusal to leave the white car but later appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana where he was found guilty once again. In his ruling, the judge used the Thirteenth amendment that abolishes slavery, saying that the separate car act did not conflict with the thirteenth amendment and only put a clear distinction between the whites and the coloreds, which exists and must always exist, because the separate car act does nothing to the equality of the two races. (Kull 84).

According to the judge, the statute never violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which accorded equal protection by the law and argued that dividing the races did not imply the superiority or inferiority of one race. According to him, this is a notion that can only exist if one race chose to interpret the laws in such a way. The laws can never change the basic norms of a society and the Court directing the mixture of the races is pointless because it would be in contrast of the public opinion. (Brook 50)

The ruling by the court set a precedence, which was followed by courts in many states afterwards. The ruling strengthened the state-ordered segregation in every sphere of life in the South; the colored and whites could not dine at the same restaurants, stay in the same hotels, use the same elevators, or visit the same beaches, swimming pools, or amusement parks. Schools for both were supposed to be different which saw even in some states, at the end of every year, the school board storing white students books separately from the books for blacks. Almost in every occupations segregation was the order of the day (Brook 52).

Gonzalez Vs Reich

The legalization of marijuana in some states in the USA has brought about a complex mixture of considerations bordering on social, medical, legal, political and ethical Issues. To start with, In the United States, marijuana has been labeled as a very dangerous drug, which attracts severe consequences for possession and distribution. However, the state of California has led the way in acknowledging the medicinal importance of marijuana. When proposition 215 was voted, it took into consideration some humanitarian issue, with a strong argument that  denying cancer and AIDS victims, plus paraplegics and epileptics a chance to access to a possibly useful medicine (marijuana) that is better and safer than most legal drugs  that are prescribed by medics is inhuman.

Gonzalez versus Raich is a case that raises attention to the powers that article eight of the American constitution gives to the US congress to include a clause that disallows the cultivation and consumption of Marijuana in compliance with the law of California (Wall 36). According to the Substances Act (CSA) of the federal law, marijuana is labeled as a controlled substance and possession of such a substance is a criminal offense. However, in California, taking into account some humanitarian issues, marijuana could be of high importance. The Compassionate Use Act was enacted in 1996 (Woll 37).This legislation permits medicinal use of marijuana when prescribed by a doctor. This means that, a patient or some one with a patient whose condition can be solved by the use of marijuana can be directed by a doctor to cultivate or posses marijuana without being pursued by the anti drugs elements with a state because; the law does not criminalize the medicinal use of marijuana. In Gonzalez versus Raich, In this case, one plaintiff cultivates her own supply of marijuana while to the other friends supply marijuana. One of the plaintiffs has filed a suit asking for preliminary reprieve against the Attorney General of the United Sates and federal state agents destroyed the Director of Drugs enforcement unit, after her six of cannabis. The big question that arises is; can this preliminary reprieve be given under the prevailing circumstances? Would the court declare the federal law cause unconstitutional to the plaintiffs? The jury in this case could not come to an agreement very easily. Ultimately, they found that the CSA had misdirected the congress because it had extended the use of the commerce clause. The plaintiffs are members of a subclass within the regulations of the CSA and the jury treated them so, which means the allegations of the complainants, though seemingly strong could not incriminate the plaintiffs. However, CSA is a legal moderator of commerce, the widespread of drugs, and the court considered the subclass of the plaintiffs, which ensured that they were not treated with the legislation of the broader category. This means that theirs was non-commercial cultivation, non-commercial possession and legal consumption of marijuana under the prescription of a certified doctor for medicinal purposes, which were in accordance with the Californian law (kull 70)

However, why couldn't the jury reach to the argument easily. In most cases, the general inclination of judges usually influences the outcome of cases in the supreme courts especially where the federal law is concerned. In Gonzalez v Raich, conservative members of the jury chose to dismiss the federal drug law and instead followed the California’s law that permits the consumption of medical marijuana while liberal judges stuck with the federal law. In the case of Raich case there are issues that are worth attention .The question that begs is, are the legitimate principles of federalism overtly legal? Why invoke the commerce clause in this case? In this case, the Supreme Court rejected the proposition that the commerce clause allowed Congress to control non-economic activities simply because, through a series of causal effects, they might have an economic impact.


Examination of the two court cases shows that they are advocating for a strict interpretation of the constitution. The highlight of this case is splitting a law governing a larger class into smaller subclasses and the application of the state law to give a ruling protecting the subclasses in a manner, which the federal law could not rule. The case also exposes the complexities that are created by the various clashes between the federal and the sate laws because; in this case the substance act of the federal law bans the use of marijuana while the Compassionate act allows the medicinal cultivation, possession and consumption of marijuana out of the clash between two statutes.  (Woll 44).The ruling made by the jury is in agreement with the judicial knowledge that the commerce clause has some strict conditions and thus the judges by clearly stating its powers restricted the congress from freely using the police powers that are at their disposal in many states.


Works Cited

Brook, Thomas. PlessyPlessy v. Ferguson: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford Books, 1997

Kull, A. The 14th Amendment That Wasn't. Constitution 5, no. 1 winter 1993, 1995

Woll, P. American Government: Readings and Cases. Brandeis: Longman, 1962


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