United States v. Cruikshank
Infobox SCOTUS case
Litigants = United States v. Cruikshank
ArgueDateA = March 30
ArgueDateB = April 1
ArgueYear = 1875
DecideDate = March 27
DecideYear = 1876
FullName = United States v. Cruikshank, et al.
USVol = 92
USPage = 542
Citation = 2. Otto 542; 23 L.Ed. 588
Holding = The First Amendment right to assembly was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens and the Second Amendment has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government.
SCOTUS = 1874-1877
Majority = Waite
JoinMajority =Swayne, Miller, Field, Strong
Dissent = Clifford
JoinDissent = Davis, Bradley, Hunt
"United States v. Cruikshank", 92 U.S. 542 (
1875) [ussc|92|542|Full text of the decision courtesy of Findlaw.com] was an important United States Supreme Court decision in United States constitutional law, one of the earliest to deal with the application of the Bill of Rightsto state governments following the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment.
On Easter Day 1873, an armed white militia attacked Republican freedmen who had gathered at the
Colfax, Louisianacourthouse to protect it from a Democratic takeover. Although some of the African Americans were armed and initially defended themselves, estimates were that 100-280 were killed, most of them following surrender, and 50 that night who were being held as prisoner. A total of three whites were killed. This was in the tense aftermath of months of uncertainty following the disputed gubernatorial election of November 1872, when two parties declared victory at the state and local levels. The election was still unsettled in the spring, and both Republican and Fusionistshad certified their own slates for the local offices of sheriff, parish justice of the peace, etc., in Grant Parish, where Colfaxwas the parish seat. Federal troops reinforced the election of the Republican governor.
Some members of the white mob were indicted and charged under the Enforcement Act of 1870. Among other provisions, the law made it a felony for two or more people conspired to deprive anyone of his constitutional rights.
Given the disproportionate rate of black fatalities, historians have come to call the event the
Colfax Massacre. It was long called the Colfax Riot in local white communities, which suggests how they told the story — an event arising because blacks were out of control.
The Supreme Court ruled on a range of issues and found the indictment faulty. It overturned the convictions of two defendants in the case. The Court did not incorporate the
Bill of Rightsto the states and found that the First Amendment right to assembly "was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens" and that the Second Amendment "has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government."
Although the Enforcement Act had been designed primarily to allow Federal enforcement and prosecution of actions of the
Ku Klux Klanand other secret vigilante groups in preventing blacks from voting and murdering them, the "Cruikshank" court held that the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses applied only to state action, and not to actions of individuals.
Mr. Justice Clifford offered the dissenting opinion. He found that sec. 5 of the 14th amendment did, in fact, invest the federal government with the power to legislate the actions of individuals who restrict the constitutional rights of others.
In the short term, African Americans in the South were left to the mercy of increasingly hostile state governments, who did little to protect them. When white Democrats regained power in the late 1870s, they passed legislation making
voter registrationand elections more complicated, effectively stripping many blacks from voter rolls. Paramilitaryviolence continued to suppress African-American voting. From 1890 to 1908, ten of the eleven former Confederate states passed disfranchising constitutions or amendments, with provisions for poll taxes, residency requirements, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses that effectively disfranchised most black voters and many poor whites. The disfranchisement also meant that in most cases blacks could not serve on juries or hold any political office, which were restricted to voters.
The Cruikshank case effectively enabled political parties' use of paramilitary forces.
Although significant portions of "Cruikshank" have been overturned by later decisions, it is still relied upon with some authority in other portions. "Cruikshank" and "
Presser v. Illinois", which reaffirmed it in 1886, are the only significant Supreme Court interpretations of the Second Amendment until the murky " United States v. Miller" in 1939, but both preceded the court's general acceptance of the incorporation doctrine and have been questioned for that reason. However, the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in " District of Columbia v. Heller" in 2008, slip opinion 07-290, 51 fn 23, clearly suggested that "Cruikshank" and the chain of cases flowing from it would no longer be considered good law as a result of the radically changed view of the Fourteenth Amendment when that issue eventually comes before the courts:
List of United States Supreme Court cases, volume 92
case="United States v. Cruikshank", 92 U.S. 542 (1875)
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