Consider how criminal law is a reflection of the ethical values of a given society at a given point in history – for example, in 1892, Homer Plessy, an African-American, was arrested and charged with violating the Separate Car Act, a state law in Louisiana that prohibited African-Americans from riding on the “White” cars. Plessy’s case made it all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), the Court actually upheld this state law as a constitutional “separate but equal” law. The “separate but equal” doctrine served as an unfortunate stamp of approval to discrimination and led to separate but equal public schools, pools, parks, and more. Finally, in 1954, almost sixty years later, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled its decision inPlessy, making it clear that “separate but equal” doctrine was no longer the law of the land.
Another example of how the law has evolved is up until 1967, it was considered a crime in Virginia and in fifteen other states for an interracial couple to marry. In the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia (1967), the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck down as unconstitutional such state laws banning interracial marriage.
Describe the relationship between what a society believes is important and worth protecting and how this is reflected in criminal law. In addition, discuss why it is important for criminal law to adapt and change as society evolves.
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