Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana (1985)

Posted in Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, Statements, United States on 2016-10-08 01:50Z by Steven

Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana (1985)

Justice Ward delivered the opinion of the Court.

This appeal is brought by several members of the Guillory family, children and grandchildren of Simea Fretty and Dominique Guillory, both deceased. Six of the appellants, Marie Bernice Guillory Rougeau, Armet Guillory Fontenot, Lucy Elizabeth Guillory Parker, Suzy Elizabeth Rita Guillory Phipps, Regina Rougeau, and Tex Adam Rougeau, contend that their birth certificates, issued between the years 1919 and 1941, erroneously designate their parents as “colored”, when in fact they were white. These appellants seek a mandamus that would compel the Louisiana Department of Health and Human Resources to correct the alleged error. Two of the appellants, Theresa Guillory Rougeau and Mildred Rougeau, were never issued birth certificates. They seek a mandamus compelling the state to issue delayed birth certificates designating their parents as white. The Trial Court found that the evidence presented by appellants was insufficient to justify a mandamus.

As an alternative to their suit for mandamus, appellants challenged the constitutionality of former La. R.S. 42:267 which provided that a person having one-thirty second or less of Negro blood shall not be described or designated as “colored” by any state official. The Trial Court rejected the constitutional challenge solely on the grounds that 42:267 was held constitutional in State ex rel. Plaia v. Louisiana State Board of Health (1974).

We affirm the Trial Court judgment…

…As to the six appellants who presently have birth certificates, we find that they failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that their parents’ racial designations are incorrect. Expert testimony indicated that the very concept of the racial classification of individuals, as opposed to that of a group, is scientifically insupportable. Individual racial designations are purely social and cultural perceptions, and the evidence conclusively proves those subjective perceptions were correctly recorded at the time appellants’ birth certificates were issued. There is no proof in the record that Simea or Dominique Guillory preferred to be designated as white. They might well have been proud to be described as colored. Indeed, we have no evidence that during their lifetimes they objected to the racial designations in dispute in this case. Accordingly, we hold that the defendant state officers have no legal duty to alter the birth certificates…

Read the entire opinion here.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

One ‘Speck’ of Imperfection—Invisible blackness and the one-drop rule: An interdisciplinary approach to examining Plessy v. Ferguson and Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana

Posted in Dissertations, History, Law, Louisiana, Media Archive, United States on 2011-12-07 17:36Z by Steven

One ‘Speck’ of Imperfection—Invisible blackness and the one-drop rule: An interdisciplinary approach to examining Plessy v. Ferguson and Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana

Indiana University
371 pages
Publication Number: AAT 3315914
ISBN: 9780549675372

Erica Faye Cooper

Submitted to the faculty of the University Graduate School in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Doctor of Philosophy

By 1920 virtually every state legislature had adopted “one-drop” laws. These laws were important because they served as the means for determining racial identity in the United States throughout the 20th century. In the past, scholars focus on either the social or legal history of the one-drop rule. Despite the exhaustive social and legal historical accounts, I argue that the “history” of the one-drop rule is incomplete without a rhetorical history. My findings suggest that a rhetorical history of the one-drop rule is vital because it explores how the doctrine emerged in legal and social discourse. In addition, a rhetorical history also uncovers the persuasive strategies used by rhetors to reinforce racist ideology.

In this dissertation, I found that the one-drop rule occupied a significant role in judicial rhetoric through the persuasive strategies of judicial actors—court justices and lawyers. I revealed that their language choices created a pseudo “racial” reality that was characterized by a rigid black-white racial binary. This “false” reality functioned persuasively to obscure the racial diversity that actually existed in the United States during specific moments in time. Using Critical Race Theory from legal studies and McGee’s notion of the “ideograph” from critical rhetorical theory, I examined the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and the Court of Appeals’ holding in Jane Doe v. State of Louisiana (1985). My findings show that such terms as “white,” “black,” and the “one-drop rule” were used by lawyers and court justices in disputes involving racial identity and legal rights beginning in 1896. In both cases, the one-drop ideograph dominated discussions regarding who was “black” or “white.” Based on its ideographic relationship with the one-drop rule, “black” was defined to include mixed and unmixed blacks as well as whites. Within this ideographic analysis, I describe how the notion of invisible blackness was rhetorically constructed from the language used by the court. The one-drop rule continues to influence legislation and social attitudes.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1
    • Introduction to Problem
    • Justifying for Research and Statement of Purpose
    • Research Questions, Methods, and Overview
      • Methods: Case Analysis
      • Preview of Chapters
  • Chapter 2
    • Socio-Cultural history
    • Definition of the one-drop rule
      • Rationales for why the one-drop rule emerge
      • The One-Drop Rule Today
      • Summary
    • Legal History
      • Emergence of the Color Line in the law
      • Summary
    • Prior Analyses of the Plessy and Phipps decisions
    • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3
    • The Coming
      • Social Context: Racial Identity in Post-Bellum Louisiana
      • Legal Context
      • Introduction to Plessy
      • Summary
    • The ideographs
      • Plessy and Ferguson Briefs
      • Supreme Court Response
    • Rhetorical Implications
  • Chapter 4
    • The Coming
      • Socio-Cultural Context
      • Summary of the Socio-Legal Context
      • Who is Suzy Phipps?
    • The ideographs
      • Phipps Briefs
      • The Judicial Responses
      • Summary
    • Rhetorical Implications
  • Chapter 5
    • Summary and Findings
    • Implications
    • Conclusions
  • Cases and Legislative Acts
  • References
  • Vitae


In the 1990s, a popular figure, Tiger Woods, attempted to claim an intermediate racial status by embracing his mixed race lineage. Woods, whose mother is Thai and whose father is Native American, African American, Caucasian, and Chinese, publicly refused the label of black. Woods created the term, “Cablinasian” to reflect his Caucasian, Native American, black, and Asian ancestry. Although many supported his attempts to embrace a multi-racial heritage, the doctrine known as the “one-drop-rule” shaped public opinion on the subject of his racial identity. The one-drop rule, also known as the rule of hypo-descent, recognizes a person as “black” if she possesses any trace of African ancestry.

After winning a Master’s Tournament, fellow golfer Fuzzy Zoeller’s responses to Tiger Woods reflected one-drop reasoning and racist thinking. Zoeller stated, “he hoped that Woods would not request that dinner consist of ‘fried chicken and black-eye peas’.” Zoeller assumes that because Woods’s father is partly “black” Woods must also be black. In this one-drop argument, the presence of other “blood lines” is irrelevant. Zoeller’s statement also supported a stereotype of black people, suggesting that all members of a group behavior the same. The stereotype is also racist because of the image of blacks eating fried chicken and/or watermelon supported white supremacist beliefs.3 Despite Woods’ attempt to embrace his ethnic and racially diverse heritage, some people continued to define him as black. In essence, this example illustrates how the doctrine known as the “one-drop rule” shapes contemporary public thought on matters involving race.

Although the one-drop rule has been studied by scholars in various disciplines, none have focused on how the one-drop rule operates rhetorically. Instead, scholars have traced its history or commented on how it influenced the formation of racial identity in the United States. In this dissertation, I offer a different perspective to understanding the significance of the one-drop rule by analyzing how this doctrine operates rhetorically in legal discourse. Through a rhetorical history of the doctrine I show how the one-drop rule becomes legally sanctioned through rhetorical commitments of court justices. I argue that one-drop reasoning serves as a persuasive strategy, used by court justices, operating as rhetors, in 1896 and 1985, to promote a commitment to racism.

Using, McGee’s theory of the ideograph, from Critical Rhetorical Theory, and Critical Race Theory, from legal studies, I reveal how race (Negro, mixed race, and white) is an integral component of legal discourse. Through this analysis I explore the relationship between racial identity, rhetoric, and power in legal discourse. The manner in which race is rhetorically defined in legal discourse highlights the racist nature of traditional legal theory and contributes to a racial hierarchy that is enforced through the law. Taking a critical rhetorical and legal approach, I believe, provides useful information to the on-going discussion of racial identity and the one-drop rule in rhetorical and legal studies…

Purchase the dissertation here.

Tags: , , , , , ,