In his response to Akhil Amar’s article Plessy v. Ferguson and the Anti-Canon, Professor Barry P. McDonald argues that Plessy was virtually inevitable when placed in the historical and legal context of the late 1800s.  He writes that prevailing public opinion and social conditions at the time would not have supported official desegregation in the South. Indeed, he adds, race relations were deteriorating dramatically in both the South and the North.  At the time of Plessy, McDonald notes, existing Supreme Court precedent was not particularly protective of minority rights and lower court precedent of the day actively supported racial segregation in public facilities. He observes that the Court had no means, such as the purse or a police force, to enforce a progressive decision that was unpopular with the public and not supported by either the ruling state or federal administrations. In closing, McDonald concedes that while the Plessy decision seems inevitable when placed in context, Justice Henry Billings Brown’s opinion was still written in an insensitive and offensive way that should not be excused.

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