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Law School Case Brief

Pace v. Alabama - 106 U.S. 583, 1 S. Ct. 637 (1882)


The purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to prevent hostile and discriminating state legislation against any person or class of persons. Equality of protection under the laws implies not only accessibility by each one, whatever his race, on the same terms with others to the courts of the country for the security of his person and property, but that in the administration of criminal justice he shall not be subjected, for the same offense, to any greater or different punishment. Such was the view of Congress in the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of May 31, 1870, c. 114, after the adoption of the amendment. That act, after providing that all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right, in every state and territory, to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, declares, in § 16, that they shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind and none other, any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom to the contrary notwithstanding.


Defendants Tony Pace, an African-American man, and Mary J. Cox, a white woman, were indicted under § 4189 of the Code of Alabama in Alabama state court, for living together in a state of adultery or fornication. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced, each to two years' imprisonment in the State penitentiary. On their appeal, the Supreme Court of Alabama upheld their convictions. On writ of error before the Supreme Court of the United States, Pace argued that § 4189 violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it denied him equal protection of the law, noting that Ala. Code § 4184 prohibited an adulterous relationship between any man or woman, and provided only a tiered punishment scheme of fines and imprisonment. According to Pace, § 4189 prescribed a greater punishment for the same conduct as prescribed in § 4184, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


By prescribing a greater punishment for the same conduct as prescribed in Ala. Code § 4184, did Ala. Code § 4189 violate the Fourteenth Amendment, thereby warranting the reversal of Pace's conviction?




The Court affirmed the order affirming Pace's conviction. The Court held that § 4189, which punished adultery or fornication committed between persons of different races and color more severely than the same offense committed between persons of the same race and color, did not make a discrimination against African-Americans in the punishment designated. According to the Court, § 4189 applied the same punishment to both offenders, both white and African-American. The discrimination in the punishment prescribed was directed against the offense designated, and not against the person of any particular color or race; hence, there was no violation of the equal protection of the law.
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