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In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court established the idea that state-mandated racial segregation was legal so long as equal facilities were provided for both races. It also made the distinction between social segregation and political discrimination. It claimed that the former was acceptable but that the latter was not.
The Court held that political discrimination (such as excluding African Americans from juries) was illegal because it marked them as inferior and was a step towards slavery. However, it held that the sort of social segregation at issue in Plessy did not carry any such stigma with it.
This case, then, established the right of governments to enact laws that provided for social segregation on the basis of race so long as the facilities for each race were equal.
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