In Hall v. DeCuir (1877), the Court used the Commerce Clause to strike down a Louisiana statute which had outlawed racial segregation in public transportation. In the Civil Rights cases, (1883), the Court construed the 14th Amendment narrowly to limit the power of Congress to prevent racial discrimination in public accommodations by the states. These decisions, and later ones, such as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which involved a Louisiana statute which segregated the races on trains and which was upheld by the Court on states rights grounds so long as the separate facilities were roughly equal, reflected the dominant thinking of that era and not only in the South.
During this period, the movement for greater public regulation of the excesses of finance and industrial capitalism, which was fueled by populist and labor unrest and led by the middle-class Progressive movement, gathered momentum. The views of the legal realists gained broader acceptance. Many leading jurists, including later Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, articulated the concept that the law should play a stronger role in protecting the public against the abuses of large concentrations of economic power.
However, the conservative bent of the Supreme Court was very much in evidence throughout this period. One of the most notable decisions was its holding in Lochner v. New York (1905) that a New York law placing limits on the working hours of bakers violated liberty of contract guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. In Muller v. Oregon (1908), the Court upheld an Oregon statute limiting the hours that women could work but did so on the basis that they needed special constitutional protection because of their physical inferiority to men, reasoning which infuriated many women's rights activists. During this period, the Court also invalidated the first income tax, largely gutted in 1895 the Sherman Antitrust law and federal and state courts made liberal use of th...
Dominant Themes in American Legal History. (2000, January 01). In LotsofEssays.com. Retrieved 11:37, October 31, 2014, from http://www.collegetermpapers.com/viewpaper/1304058316.html