Originally Answered: During the Civil War Reconstruction why were the Civil Rights of 1875 Unconstitutional?
Passed 1 March 1875, the law provided that all persons, regardless of race, were entitled to "the full and equal enjoyment" of accommodations of inns, public transportation, theaters, and other amusement places. It provided for either criminal or civil enforcement. If found guilty in a criminal trial, the lawbreaker was punishable by a $500 to $1,000 fine and between thirty days and one year in jail. Alternatively, the victim could file a civil suit for $500 in damages. Another provision barred the disqualification of jurors on account of color in any state or federal court. The Act also made U.S. law enforcement officials criminally and civilly liable if they failed to enforce its provisions.
The equal accommodations provision of the 1875 Civil Rights Act was extremely controversial. It redefined what most Americans had thought to be mere "social rights" as civil rights, to which all were entitled. It also was based on an expansive interpretation of the Civil War constitutional amendments that gave Congress power to enforce rights not just when those rights were impinged on by states but when infringed by individuals as well. It not only barred the total exclusion of African Americans from specified facilities, it seemingly prohibited racially segregated facilities altogether.
African American leaders, former abolitionists, and radical Republicans had pressed for this legislation since 1870, when Massachusetts Republican Senator Charles Sumner proposed an equal accommodations measure as the "crowning work" of Reconstruction. Sumner's proposal required integration not only of inns, transportation, and amusement places, but also of religious institutions, common schools, and legally incorporated cemeteries. However, most Republicans were extremely wary of the measure, fearing the political consequences, especially in the South. Although a truncated version of Sumner's bill passed the Senate in 1872, the House of Representatives never considered it.
Sumner reintroduced the Civil Rights bill in December 1873. Republican opinion remained badly divided. Some southern Republican congressmen supported it in deference to their African American constituents. More conservative southern Republicans warned that it would destroy southern white support not only for the Republican Party but also for the region's struggling public schools. Nonetheless, the Senate passed the bill in May 1874, moved in part by Sumner's death two months earlier. The House passed the bill in March 1875, as a final Reconstruction measure in the lame-duck session of Congress that followed the elections of 1874, in which Republicans lost control of the lower branch in part due to the southern white reaction against the proposal. However, the House stripped the mixed-school provision from the bill, with many Republicans supporting the Democratic motion to do so rather than accept an amendment that would have condoned segregated schools. Recognizing that to insist on mixed schools would now kill the entire bill, radical Republican senators acquiesced to the amended measure.
Despite the potential penalties, the law was only reluctantly enforced by federal officers, leaving most enforcement to private litigants. In 1883 the Supreme Court ruled in the Civil Rights Cases that the law exceeded Congress's constitutional power under the Fourteenth Amendment, because it applied to individual rather than state action. The law was not authorized under the Thirteenth Amendment, which was not limited to state action, because the rights involved were not civil rights, the denial of which would amount to a "badge of servitude." The Court sustained the jury provision in Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339 (1880).