What Is the Legal Definition of Race ?
The Court examined the understanding of "race" in the 19th century by looking to dictionaries and encyclopedias from that period:
In the middle years of the 19th century, dictionaries commonly referred to race as a "continued series of descendants from a parent who is called the stock," N. Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language 666 (New York 1830), "the lineage of a family," 2 N. Webster, a Dictionary of the English Language 411 (New Haven 1841), or "descendants of a common ancestor," J. Donald, Chambers' Etymological Dictionary of the English Language 415 (London 1871).
The 1887 edition of Webster's expanded the definition somewhat: "The descendants of a common ancestor; a family, tribe, people or nation, believed or presumed to belong to the same stock." N. Webster, Dictionary of the English Language 589 (W. Wheeler ed. 1887).
It was not until the 20th century that dictionaries began referring to the Caucasian, Mongolian, and Negro races . . .. Even so, modern dictionaries still include among the definitions of race, "a family, tribe, people, or nation belonging to the same stock." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1870 (1971); Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary 969 (1986).
Encyclopedias of the 19th century also described race in terms of ethnic groups . . . Encyclopedia Americana in 1858, for example, referred to various races such as Finns, vol. 5, p. 123, gypsies, 6 id., at 123, Basques, 1 id., at 602, and Hebrews, 6 id., at 209.
Saint Francis College, 481 U.S. at 610-11. Other examples of "races" given in various editions of 19th century encyclopedias included Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Greeks, Finns, Italians, Spanish, Mongolians, Russians, Jews, and Hungarians. Id.
The Court further pointed out that the congressional debates of the time were "replete with references to the Scandinavian races . . . the Chinese, . . . Latin, . . . Spanish, . . . and Anglo-Saxon races, . . . Jews, . . . Mexicans, . . . blacks, . . . and Mongolians . . ., Gypsies . . . and the Germans." Id. at 612.
Based on the above evidence of society's view of "race" at the time, the Supreme Court concluded that Congress intended to prohibit discrimination due to a person's ancestry or ethnic characteristics under 1981.
The Court stated that "such discrimination is racial discrimination that Congress intended 1981 to prohibit, whether or not it would be classified as racial in terms of modern scientific theory." Id. at 613.
The Supreme Court's analysis concerning races in Saint Francis College has been applied in the Equal Protection/Batson context. See United States v. Biaggi, 673 F. Supp. 96, 101 (E.D.N.Y. 1988), aff'd, 853 F.2d 89 (2nd Cir.), cert. denied, 489 U.S. 1052, 103 L. Ed. 2d 581, 109 S. Ct. 1312 (1989); Rambersed, 649 N.Y.S.2d at 644.
Some courts have determined that the legislative history of post-civil war legislation, including the enabling legislation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, supports the view that the Fourteenth Amendment "was intended to protect a variety of groups not now labeled 'races.'"
Biaggi, 673 F. Supp. at 102; see also Rambersed, 649 N.Y.S.2d at 644 ("in light of the dialectic historical realities, it can assuredly be concluded that for Equal Protection jurisprudence Batson supports an expansive construction of the meaning of 'cognizable racial group' that is inclusive of a variety of ethnic and ancestral groups subject to intentional discrimination");
Chew v. State, 71 Md. App. 681, 527 A.2d 332, 348 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1987)(Fourteenth Amendment and Civil Rights Act of 1866 were written by same senators and representatives in same congressional session), vacated, 317 Md. 233, 562 A.2d 1270 (Md. 1989). As explained by one court with particularity:
A cursory review of the relevant sociological and anthropological literature reinforces, rather than undermines, the often invisible link between race and national origin, emphasizing such factors as geographic distribution and culture in race formation. . . .
Turning to the legislative history of America's first Civil Rights Act, that of 1866, which was enacted to further the protections of the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), finds it replete with references to a broad scope encompassing "all persons".
. . . "The statutory structure and legislative history persuade ... that the 39th Congress was intent upon establishing ... a broader principle than would have been necessary simply to meet the particular and immediate plight of the newly freed Negro slaves."