United States v. Cruikshank
|United States v. Cruikshank|
Supreme Court of the United States
|Argued March 30 – April 1, 1875
Decided March 27, 1876
|Full case name||United States v. Cruikshank, et al.|
|Citations||92 U.S. 542 (more)
2. Otto 542; 23 L.Ed. 588
|The First Amendment right to assembly was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens and the Second Amendment has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government.|
|Majority||Waite, joined by Swayne, Miller, Field, Strong|
|Concur/dissent||Clifford, joined by Davis, Bradley, Hunt|
United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876) was an important United States Supreme Court decision in United States constitutional law, one of the earliest to deal with the application of the Bill of Rights to state governments following the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment.
On Easter Sunday, April 13, 1873, an armed white militia attacked Republican freedmen, who had gathered at the Colfax, Louisiana, courthouse to protect it from the pending Democratic takeover. Although some of the blacks were armed and initially defended themselves, estimates were that 100-280 were killed, most of them following surrender, and 50 were being held prisoner that night. Three whites were killed. This was in the tense aftermath of months of uncertainty following the disputed gubernatorial election of November 1872, when two parties declared victory at the state and local levels. The election was still unsettled in the spring, and both Republican and Fusionists, who carried Democratic backing, had certified their own slates for the local offices of sheriff (Christopher Columbus Nash) and justice of the peace in Grant Parish, where Colfax is the parish seat. Federal troops reinforced the election of the Republican governor, William Pitt Kellogg.
Some members of the white mob were indicted and charged under the Enforcement Act of 1870. Among other provisions, the law made it a felony for two or more people conspired to deprive anyone of his constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court ruled on a range of issues and found the indictment faulty. It overturned the convictions of two defendants in the case. The Court did not incorporate the Bill of Rights to the states and found that the First Amendment right to assembly "was not intended to limit the powers of the State governments in respect to their own citizens" and that the Second Amendment "has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government."
Although the Enforcement Act had been designed primarily to allow Federal enforcement and prosecution of actions of the Ku Klux Klan and other secret vigilante groups in preventing blacks from voting and murdering them, Cruikshank held the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses applied only to state action, and not to actions of individuals: "The fourteenth amendment prohibits a State from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; but this adds nothing to the rights of one citizen as against another."
Justice Clifford also voted to rescind the indictments but for entirely different reasons: he opined that section five of the 14th Amendment invested the federal government with the power to legislate the actions of individuals who restrict the constitutional rights of others, but he also found that the indictments were worded too vaguely to allow the defendants to prepare an effective defense.
In the short term, blacks in the South were left to the mercy of increasingly hostile state governments, who did little to protect them. When Democrats regained power in the late 1870s, they passed legislation making voter registration and elections more complicated, effectively stripping many blacks from voter rolls. Paramilitary violence continued to suppress black voting. From 1890 to 1908, 10 of the 11 former Confederate states passed disfranchising constitutions or amendments, with provisions for poll taxes, residency requirements, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses that effectively disfranchised most black voters and many poor whites. The disfranchisement also meant that in most cases blacks could not serve on juries or hold any political office, which were restricted to voters.
The Cruikshank case effectively enabled political parties' use of paramilitary forces.
Ironically, and despite that era's Republican commitment to Reconstruction and black civil rights, all five Justices in the majority were appointed by Republicans (three by Lincoln, two by Grant), while the lone Democratic appointee Nathan Clifford dissented.
Continuing validity 
Constitutional commentator Leonard Levy wrote, "Cruikshank paralyzed the federal government's attempt to protect black citizens by punishing violators of their Civil Rights and, in effect, shaped the Constitution to the advantage of the Ku Klux Klan." Federal civil rights enforcement was blocked by Cruikshank until 1966 (United States v. Price; United States v. Guest) when the Court vitiated Cruikshank.[page needed] Cruikshank has also been cited for over a century by supporters of restrictive state and local gun control laws such as the Sullivan Act.
Although significant portions of Cruikshank have been overturned by later decisions, it is still relied upon with some authority in other portions. Cruikshank and Presser v. Illinois, which reaffirmed it in 1886, are the only significant Supreme Court interpretations of the Second Amendment until the murky United States v. Miller in 1939, but both preceded the court's general acceptance of the incorporation doctrine and have been questioned for that reason. However, the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 clearly suggested that Cruikshank and the chain of cases flowing from it would no longer be considered good law as a result of the radically changed view of the Fourteenth Amendment when that issue eventually comes before the courts:
With respect to Cruikshank's continuing validity on incorporation, a question not presented by this case, we note that Cruikshank also said that the First Amendment did not apply against the States and did not engage in the sort of Fourteenth Amendment inquiry required by our later cases. Our later decisions in Presser v. Illinois, 116 U. S. 252, 265 (1886) and Miller v. Texas, 153 U. S. 535, 538 (1894), reaffirmed that the Second Amendment applies only to the Federal Government.
This issue did come before the Supreme Court in McDonald vs Chicago, in which the Supreme Court, "reversed the Seventh Circuit, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense applicable to the states."
Regarding this assertion in Heller that Cruikshank said the first amendment did not apply against the states, Professor David Rabban wrote Cruikshank "never specified whether the First Amendment contains 'fundamental rights' protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against state action....”
Dualistic nature of the U.S. political system 
This Supreme Court case opined:
We have in our political system a government of the United States and a government of each of the several States. Each one of these governments is distinct from the others, and each has citizens of its own who owe it allegiance, and whose rights, within its jurisdiction, it must protect. The same person may be at the same time a citizen of the United States and a citizen of a State, but his rights of citizenship under one of these governments will be different from those he has under the other.
See also 
- 92 U.S. 542 (Full text of the decision courtesy of Findlaw.com)
- Keith, Leanna (2008). The Colfax Massacre.
- Wormser, Richard (2004). The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.
- Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 at 554
- Finkelman, Paul (2006). Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties.
- Chafetz, Joshua Aaron (2007). Democracy's Privileged Few.
- Klarman, Michael J. (2004). From Jim Crow to Civil Rights.
- Leonard W. Levy, et al., eds., Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, MacMillan/Professional Books, 1987.
- Rabban, David. Free speech in its forgotten years (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p.148.
- Slaughter-House Cases [United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875)]
- C. Peter Margrath, Morrison R. Waite, MacMillan, 1963.