How did the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court worsen
the condition of former slaves during the Reconstruction era?
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U.S. v. Cruikshank was the major Reconstruction-era case that affected freed slaves. In Cruikshank (1875), the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions of two members of a white mob that killed more than one hundred former slaves in a Louisiana conflict known as the Colfax Massacre. The Court invalidated the Enforcement Acts of 1871, which outlawed conspiracies to deprive a person of his or her constitutional rights. The Court ruled that the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment applied only to civil rights violations by the states. Congress could not prohibit such violations by private individuals. (Later cases overruled much of Cruikshank.)
Most historians consider the Reconstruction era to have ended with the Compromise of 1877. Others, however, assert that it ended in 1883, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional. The act prohibited discrimination in public accommodations (such as hotels, trains, and theaters) based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude. In the Civil Rights Cases, the Court held that Congress could not prohibit private persons from interfering with the civil liberties of others. It ruled that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment could be violated only by “state action” and not by the actions of private individuals. This ruling protected many forms of racial discrimination and underpinned the Court's later (1896) separate-but-equal doctrine.
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