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Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903 Paperback – January 31, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this comprehensive and remarkably lucid study of post–Civil War Supreme Court decisions, Goldstone (The Activist) shows how the court's narrow interpretation of the 14th amendment--bestowing "equal protection under the law" to all Americans, regardless of race--paved the way for future decisions that diminished the status of African-Americans. While the Civil Rights Act of 1875 guaranteed " the full and equal enjoyment of public conveyances, inns, places of public amusement," it was never truly enforced and was ultimately struck down in 1883 as being unconstitutional by an 8–1 vote. Justice Marshall Harlan, a former slave owner, was the lone dissenter and though vindicated by history, at the time his dissent could not have been more unpopular--even in the North. Goldstone provides rich analysis as well as useful descriptions of the backgrounds, philosophies, and even racism of the key justices. Tracing the makeup of the courts under each administration, Goldstone analyzes how politics and social Darwinism further impeded African-American equality, concluding, "the Court did not render its decisions to conform to the law but rather contorted the law to conform to its decisions." (Jan.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Goldstone offers a clear, cogent reading of the court's machinations, no small accomplishment since the justices generally rested their opinions on convoluted legal reasoning rather than on broad principles. And he's completely convincing when he argues that behind those carefully parsed opinions lay a deep-seated racism strengthened by the justices' embrace of Social Darwinism. Washington Post In Inherently Unequal, constitutional scholar Lawrence Goldstone convincingly lays the blame for this tragedy [Jim Crow] at the door of the institution that could have made the difference but did not: the United States Supreme Court. The Los Angeles Times As with Dark Bargain, Lawrence Goldstone once again adds a much-needed chapter to U.S. history with Inherently Unequal. Tavis Smiley

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; Reprint edition (January 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802778852
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802778857
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #246,641 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lawrence Goldstone is the author of more than a dozen books of both fiction and non-fiction. Six of those books were co-authored with his wife, Nancy, but they now write separately to save what is left of their dishes.
Goldstone's articles, reviews, and opinion pieces have appeared in, among other publications, the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Hartford Courant, and Berkshire Eagle. He has also written for a number of magazines that have gone bust, although he denies any cause and effect.
His first novel, Rights, won a New American Writing Award but he now cringes at its awkward prose. (Anatomy of Deception, The Astronomer, and Murtro's Niche are much better.)
Despite a seemingly incurable tendency to say what's on his mind (thus mortifying Nancy), Goldstone has been widely interviewed on both radio and television, with appearances on, among others, Diane Rehm (NPR), "Fresh Air" (NPR), "To the Best of Our Knowledge" (NPR), "The Faith Middleton Show" (NPR), "Tavis Smiley" (PBS), and Leonard Lopate (WNYC). His work has also been profiled in The New York Times, The Toronto Star, numerous regional newspapers, Salon, and Slate.
Goldstone holds a PhD in American Constitutional Studies from the New School. His friends thus call him DrG, although he can barely touch the rim. (Sigh. Can't make a layup anymore either.) He and his beloved bride founded and ran an innovative series of parent-child book groups, which they documented in Deconstructing Penguins. He has also been a teacher, lecturer, senior member of a Wall Street trading firm, taxi driver, actor, quiz show contestant, and policy analyst at the Hudson Institute.
He is a unerring stock picker. Everything he buys instantly goes down.
For those with insatiable curiosity, you can learn more at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By David P. Smith on February 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a story that everyone needs to know, if they are to understand the deep background of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. The Supreme Court, in the last three decades of the 19th century, essentially abrogated the protection of the 14th and 15th Amendments as they applied to black Americans. This meant that discrimination against freedmen and their descendents was essentially thrown back into the hands of white southerners, who used segregation de jure to establish a divided society where blacks had very few rights that any white man was bound to respect.

One only wishes that this book went deeper into the cases. As it is, there is irregular coverage given to some of the critical situations and cases brought before the Court. For example, one chapter is dedicated to the infamous CRUIKSHANK and REESE cases of the 1870s. While the author does a good job describing the circumstances surrounding the Colfax Massacre and the resulting case of U.S. v. CRUIKSHANK, one could read this chapter without ever knowing any detail whatsoever about U.S. v. REESE, which shredded the 15th Amendment as U.S. v. CRUIKSHANK did the 14th Amendment. In addition, the key case of YICK WO V. HOPKINS is briefly described, but little attention is drawn to the context of that case, affecting Chinese Americans on the west coast, and how it was decided unanimously by the same court in favor of Chinese Americans, a court that refused to expand the same logic of 14th Amendment protection to extend to African Americans. This little case is so important that it was cited in the footnotes that accompanied the case BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION OF TOPEKA.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Much has been written about the erosion of civil rights during the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction periods in America. Something happened after the war, beginning in the 19th century, that would turn the 20th into a bloody, repetitious nightmare for the vast majority of African American citizens. First they were granted full personhood under the law, emancipated and granted the right to vote; then, little by little, all of that bounty was snatched away, in great part through the machinations of the highest court of the land. It was a slow genocide of civil rights that then had to be resuscitated by dramatic triage beginning in the 1960s.

This book by Lawrence Goldstone, author of DARK BARGAIN: Slavery, Profits, and the Struggle for the Constitution, deftly and minutely details the process by which blacks, having gained so much on paper after the Civil War, lost it all to the racial bias of the members of the Supreme Court.

Much of the basis for cutting back the newly awarded rights of colored people at the time centered on the issue of states' rights. An example is the composition of juries. If states were forced to place people of color on juries, it would abrogate their right to set the standard for who could serve. If states and locales set the standard in the South, they would obviously set the standard to include only property owners, literate persons, and persons who were otherwise on the rolls, which never included any non-whites. By locking in all-white juries, it was a near-certainty the blacks would not receive equal justice in the courts.

Consider two of the players on the Supreme Court after the death of Lincoln.
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Format: Hardcover
Inherently Unequal: The Betrayal of Equal Rights by the Supreme Court, 1865-1903 is the riveting true story of how, after the Civil War, the conservative Supreme Court was instrumental in sustaining the Jim Crow era of segregation and discrimination against African-Americans. In 1875, the most comprehensive civil rights legislation seen at the time promised all Americans "the full and equal enjoyment" of public areas, but eight years later the Supreme Court voted 8 to 1 to overturn the Civil Rights Act as unconstitutional. Further rulings all but destroyed the equal protection passages of the fourteenth amendment. Inherently Unequal examines the process by which the United States became a nation defined by Jim Crow laws at the dawn of the twentieth century, drawing upon court records and period testimonies. From the well-known case of Plessy v. Ferguson to oft-overlooked cases like Williams v. Mississippi, Inherently Unequal reveals how the sum of the Supreme Court's decisions empowered racism, prejudice, and the dismal status quo, prompting mass migrations of African-Americans to the North to flee the tyranny of the state as well as seek economic sustenance. Inherently Unequal is an invaluable addition to public and college library American history shelves, and highly recommended.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on June 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This relatively small volume, an overview of the Reconstruction era, focuses on the patently flawed judgments of the US Supreme Court over the last three decades of the 19th century in cases dependent on the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Those decisions essentially encouraged Southern states and individuals in their actions to segregate black Americans from mainstream society and institutions, often enforced by terrifying violence - done with near impunity.

What stands out in this book is the unconscionable abdication by the Supreme Court of its responsibility of being the last recourse for the average person to obtain justice, in this case newly freed men. As noted by the author, Alexander Hamilton's contention that an independent supreme judiciary, appointed for life, would be above political and social pressures sadly proved to be decidedly wrong.

The beginnings of this shameful period in American history began with the attempt by Pres Andrew Johnson to permit the Southern states to rejoin the Union with no conditions attached - as though secession had not occurred and the Civil War not fought. However, Congressional Republicans, in the vast majority, were not about to stand by passively and watch the Southern states pass Black Codes that reinstituted the control and subjugation of blacks. Congress refused to seat Southern state representatives selected in white-only elections.

Continually acting against Johnson, so-called Radical Republicans passed a great deal of legislation in the late 1860s that sought to reorient Southern society.
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