Tag Archive for 'Supreme Court'

Lucy v. Adams and the Initial Integration of the University of Alabama

On October 10, 1955—57 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Lucy v. Adams unanimously ordered the University of Alabama to accept its first African American students.

The decision had been several years in the making. Autherine Lucy, a 1952 graduate of Miles College, went to court with Polly Anne Myers in July 1953, determined to gain entrance to the University’s graduate school. However, Myers was unmarried and pregnant at the time, and thus was ineligible for admittance under “moral codes” which then governed admissions. Lucy continued the lawsuit by herself.

A U.S. District Court found that denying the students’ applications violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. After the case was appealed, it made its way to the Supreme Court. Lucy and Meyers were backed by the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, with Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley, and Arthur Shores as their legal representatives.

Finally, more than two years after the battle began and a year and a half after the famous decision in Brown v. Board of Education ruled segregated public schools unconstitutional, the Court ordered the University to admit Lucy. However, the Court did not prevent the University from denying admittance to all other African American applicants.

Lucy attended her first classes the following February, but the success was temporary. Lucy’s admission incited threats from students and community members. After mobs threw rocks and eggs at her—necessitating a police escort—the University suspended her, citing concerns for her safety.

Although the NAACP took the matter to court, lawyers were unsuccessful, and Lucy was ultimately expelled from the school. Her admission, however, paved the way for sustained desegregation in 1963, when two African American students were enrolled. Lucy herself returned to the University three decades later, receiving a master’s degree in elementary education on the same day that her daughter received her degree in corporate finance.

Lucy’s story—and the initial failure of the University of Alabama to abide by the Supreme Court’s orders—is a distressing reminder that segregation and discrimination did not end with Brown v. Board of Education, but it is also a heartening tale of dedication and persistence in the face of hostility, threats, and violence.

To learn more about Autherine Lucy, check out this blog post about her first day at the University, and this blog post about her graduation in 1992. For a brief history and photos, check out this page from the University of Alabama’s web site.

Armando G. Hernandez’s article in the SAGE Encyclopedia of African American Education offers a wonderful summary of the legal battle.

Several years later, when two more students tried to enroll at the University of Alabama, Alabama’s Governor George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama’s Foster Auditorium, attempting to prevent their enrollment. President Kennedy ordered Wallace to cease and desist—but it took more than four hours before Brigadier General Henry Graham of the National Guard enforced the order, allowing James Hood and Vivian Malone to register at long last and forever integrating the University. To learn more about the final integration of the University in 1963, check out this blog post, as well as E. Culpepper Clark’s The Schoolhouse Door: Segregation’s Last Stand at the University of Alabama (Oxford University Press 1995).

To view a timeline of the struggle for educational equality, check out this page from Harvard@Home.

On This Day: Cooper v. Aaron

On September 12, 1958—54 years ago today—the Supreme Court in its landmark case Cooper v. Allen ruled that the states (in this case, Arkansas) were bound by the Supreme Court’s decisions, and therefore could not pass laws or constitutional amendments designed to negate the Court’s rulings.

Four years earlier, in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court had ruled segregated public schools unconstitutional—and then, in the 1955 Brown II decision, the Court had ordered school districts to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.”

The integration orders met resistance in many states, including Arkansas, where the legislature (supported by the governor) passed laws and even constitutional amendments outlawing integration.

In September 1957, the world watched as nine African American students, escorted by more than 1,000 armed soldiers, attended their first day of school in Little Rock, Arkansas. For the remainder of the school year, these nine African American students endured intimidation, bullying, and threats of violence, as well as physical and verbal attacks.

In February 1958, a local federal court approved the school board’s request to remove the African American students and postpone integration. Fought by the NAACP, the case made its way first to a Court of Appeals and then to the United States Supreme Court.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court ordered that the African American students be allowed to remain in school and that integration must move forward.

The constitutional rights of children not to be discriminated against in school admission on grounds of race or color declared by this court in the Brown case can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted ‘ingeniously or ingenuously.’

Although the Court recognized that public education was primarily a state issue, it made clear that the U.S. Constitution was the “supreme Law of the Land.” Expanding on the reach and significance of the ruling, the Court stated that the Arkansas was bound by its orders and therefore, no legislation or amendment could be used to negate the opinion of the nation’s highest court.

Article VI of the Constitution makes the Constitution the ‘supreme Law of the Land.’ In 1803, Chief Justice Marshall, speaking for a unanimous Court, referring to the Constitution as ‘the fundamental and paramount law of the nation,’ declared in the notable case of Marbury v. Madison… that ‘It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.’ This decision declared the basic principle that the federal judiciary is supreme in the exposition of the law of the Constitution, and that principle has ever since been respected by this Court and the Country as a permanent and indispensable feature of our constitutional system. . . . No state legislator or executive or judicial officer can war against the Constitution without violating his undertaking to support it.

With this unanimous decision, the Court ordered the school district to admit African American students for the new school year. The significance of this ruling cannot be overstated. The Court made it clear that federal courts can and should enforce federal civil rights laws and court decisions, taking one more step in the fight for integration and equality.

To learn more about Cooper v. Aaron, check out this page from PBS and this page from the U.S. Department of State.  Readers will also be interested in Tony Freyer’s Little Rock on Trial: Cooper v. Aaron and School Desegregation (University Press of Kansas 2007).

To listen to the oral arguments, check out this page from Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Oyez Project.  To read the full text of the opinion, click here.

To read about the Little Rock Nine, check out this blog post. Readers might also be interested in Karen Anderson’s Little Rock: Race and Resistance at Central High School (Princeton University Press 2009), John A. Kirk’s edited collection An Epitaph for Little Rock: A Fiftieth Anniversary Retrospective of the Central High Crisis (University of Arkansas Press 2008), and John A. Kirk’s edited collection Beyond Little Rock: The Origins and Legacies of the Central High Crisis (University of Arkansas Press 2007).

On This Day: Milliken v. Bradley

On July 25, 1974—only 38 years ago—the Supreme Court in Milliken v. Bradley restricted its earlier decision about school busing, now holding that outlying districts were exempt from aiding the desegregation of inner-city school systems.

Three years earlier, the Supreme Court in Swann v. Mecklenburg Board of Education had upheld busing programs designed to speed racial integration. By that time, it had been 17 years since the milestone Brown v. Board of Education had outlawed racial segregation in public education; the case set an important precedent for schools across the country as each went through its own desegregation process.

However, in 1974, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments surrounding the desegregation of the public schools in Detroit, Michigan. Its decision would have profound effects.

The NAACP sued Michigan Governor William Milliken, charging that the public school system was racially segregated as a result of a policy he had put into effect. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a district court decision that the system was indeed segregated, and ordered the state to adopt a desegregation plan which encompassed 54 outlying school districts.

The Supreme Court, however, decided 5-to-4 in favor of Milliken, holding the lower court’s order as impermissible and stating that “desegregation, in the sense of dismantling a dual school system, does not require any particular racial balance.”

Stating that there was no evidence that the outlying districts had deliberately engaged in segregation, the Court emphasized the importance of local control over the operation of schools. The decision read, in part:

The inter-district remedy could extensively disrupt and alter the structure of public education in Michigan, since that remedy would require, in effect, consolidation of 54 independent school districts historically administered as separate governmental units into a vast new super school district, and, since—entirely apart from the logistical problems attending large-scale transportation of students—the consolidation would generate other problems in the administration, financing, and operation of this new school system.

It was a controversial and complex decision. The five justices in the majority placed high importance on maintaining local control over schools; however, as the four justices in the minority feared, exempting suburban districts from the desegregation process made possible the continued “white flight” from cities to the suburbs.

Busing remained controversial throughout the country—and in fact continues to be a topic of discussion today, as school systems debate the important balance between shortening students’ commutes and maintaining racial, ethnic, and economic diversity.

To listen to the oral argument and opinion announcement, check out this page from The Oyez Project.

To read the full text of the Supreme Court opinion, check out this page from the Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute.

To learn more, check out Joyce Baugh’s The Detroit School Busing Case: Milliken v. Bradley and the Controversy over Desegregation (University Press of Kansas, 2011).

To learn more about Governor Milliken, check out Dave Dempsey’s William G. Milliken: Michigan’s Passionate Moderate (University of Michigan Press, 2006).

To learn more about how student busing played out in another large city, check out Ronald Formisiano’s Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s (UNC Press 2004).

For discussions about racial integration and educational policy, check out Integrating Schools in a Changing Society: New Politics and Legal Options for a Multiracial Generation (UNC Press 2011, edited by Erica Frankenberg and Elizabeth DeBray).

Remembering NAACP v. Alabama

On June 30, 1958—54 years ago today—the Supreme Court in NAACP v. Alabama took a stand in favor of individuals’ constitutional rights, asserting that Alabama’s demand for the NAACP’s membership lists violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In 1956, Alabama Attorney General John Patterson sued the NAACP, claiming that the civil rights organization violated a state law which required out-of-state companies to file their corporate charter with state officials and designate an agent to act on the company’s behalf.

After the NAACP refused to capitulate to a state judge’s orders to cease operations and produce records—including the names and addresses of its members—the organization was fined $10,000. While the NAACP was willing to turn over some records, it was unwilling to produce the membership lists.

After the Alabama Supreme Court twice refused to review the case, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments.

In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that Alabama’s demand violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The disclosure of membership lists, the Court argued, would suppress legal association among the group’s members—in fact, earlier disclosures of member identities had led to loss of employment, physical coercion, and other hostile treatment.

The ruling read, in part:

Effective advocacy of both public and private points of view particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association, as this Court has more than once recognized by remarking upon the close nexus between the freedoms of speech and assembly. . . It is beyond debate that freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the “liberty” assured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech. . .

. . . This court has recognized the vital relationship between freedom to associate and privacy in one’s associations. . . Inviolability of privacy in group associations may in many circumstances be indispensable to preservation of freedom of association, particularly where a group espouses dissident beliefs.

The Court did not rule on the legality of the NAACP’s work in Alabama, but it did overturn the contempt order and the fine. The decision signaled an important acknowledgement of the freedom of association, and paved the way for future success in the struggle against racial discrimination.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

To read a news article printed at the time, click here.

To learn more, click here and here.

To learn more about the NAACP, click here.

To learn about the controversial John Patterson, who became Governor one year after NAACP v. Alabama, check out Gene Howard’s Patterson for Alabama: The Life and Career of John Patterson (University of Alabama Press, 2008).

To learn about African Americans’ struggle for civil rights during the next decade in Alabama, check out Frye Gaillard’s Cradle of Freedom: Alabama and the Movement that Changed America (University of Alabama Press, 2004) and Alabama’s Civil Rights Trail (University of Alabama Press, 2010).

On This Day: Planned Parenthood v. Casey

On June 29, 1992—only twenty years ago today—the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey simultaneously reaffirmed and weakened its prior ruling in Roe v. Wade, ruling that although the state is prohibited from banning most abortions, it does have the authority to impose some regulations.

Ten years earlier, Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act put into effect regulations requiring women to give “informed consent” before abortions, forcing upon women a 24-hour waiting period, and requiring minors to obtain informed consent from a parent. Married women were required to inform their husband of their intention to abort the pregnancy, and abortion clinics were required to report themselves to the state.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania sued the state, arguing that the Act violated the provisions of Roe v. Wade.

A split court (5-to-4) held that the essential holdings of Roe v. Wade should be affirmed; however the court also upheld the majority of the Act’s provisions as constitutional, arguing that states seek to protect the health of the mother and the life of the fetus. For example, the 24 hour waiting period was held as constitutional because it was not perceived as an “undue burden.” Likewise, the parental consent provision for minors was upheld. The spousal consent provision, however, was declared unconstitutional.

The decision read, in part:

Constitutional protection of the woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy derives from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. . .

Men and women of good conscience can disagree, and we suppose some always shall disagree, about the profound moral and spiritual implications of terminating a pregnancy, even at its earliest stage. Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code. The underlying constitutional issue is whether the State can resolve these philosophic questions in such a definitive way that a woman lacks all choice in the matter, except perhaps in those rare circumstances in which the pregnancy is itself a danger to her own life or health, or is the result of rape or incest.

It is conventional constitutional doctrine that where reasonable people disagree the government can adopt one position or the other. . . That theorem, however, assumes a state of affairs in which the choice does not intrude upon a protected liberty.

The case came nearly two decades after Roe v. Wade gave women the right to terminate their pregnancies, and 27 years after Griswold v. Connecticut protected a couple’s right to privacy concerning their reproductive decisions. While the 1992 ruling, in its affirmation of the basic principle of Roe v. Wade, acknowledged a woman’s right to make choices about her own body, it also represented a regression in women’s rights, as seen through its provisions concerning the state’s authority to regulate women’s reproductive health.

The ambiguous “undue burden” test has proved difficult to apply, and the ruling, which received mixed reactions at the time, remains controversial to this day.

To read the opinion, delivered by three justices, click here.

To listen to the oral argument and the opinion announcement, click here.

To read a New York Times article published the following day, click here.

For more information, click here.

To read Planned Parenthood’s description of Pennsylvania’s law, click here.

For a broader discussion of reproductive rights, check out Marc Stein’s Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe (UNC Press, 2010), and The Abortion Rights Controversy in America: A Legal Reader (UNC Press, 2004).

Nancy Ehrenreich’s edited volume, The Reproductive Rights Reader (NYU Press, 2008) offers articles and legal cases that provide context to this debate.

On This Day: Regents of the University of California v. Bakke

On June 28, 1978—34 years ago today—a split Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 that although affirmative action admissions policies were often constitutional, the University of California Medical School at Davis had violated the Fourteenth Amendment when it denied admission to a white man simply because 16 of the 100 seats were reserved for non-white students.

Allan Bakke, a white man, had twice sought admission to the medical school, and had been rejected both times. His college GPA and test scores exceeded those of any of the 16 minority students admitted; however, the University’s affirmative action program automatically set aside each of those 16 seats for non-white students.

The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where Bakke contended that the University had violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause by refusing him admission solely on the basis of his race.

The Supreme Court found 5-to-4 in favor of Bakke; however, the ruling was not clear-cut. Four of the justices contended that the racial quota system was a violation of civil rights; four others argued that it was constitutionally permissible. Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., was torn. He contended that the use of race was valid as one of several admissions criteria, but ultimately broke the tie in favor of Bakke, arguing that the University’s rigid use of this system was unconstitutional.

In his opinion, with which four other justices concurred, Powell wrote:

. . . it is evident that the Davis special admission program involves the use of an explicit racial classification never before countenanced by this Court. It tells applicants who are not Negro, Asian, or Chicano that they are totally excluded from a specific percentage of the seats in an entering class. No matter how strong their qualifications, quantitative and extracurricular, including their own potential for contribution to educational diversity, they are never afforded the chance to compete with applicants from the preferred groups for the special admissions seats. At the same time the preferred applicants have the opportunity to compete for every seat in the class.

The split decision sent mixed messages. It upheld affirmative action systems as constitutional in some cases; however, it also placed limitations on the use of such policies, defining as unconstitutional the rigid application of racial quotas to the extent that said quotas went beyond ensuring diversity to infringe upon the rights of another group of students.

The validity and present-day necessity of affirmative action programs is still a topic of contention, as is the concept of reverse discrimination. Lawyers, judges, school officials, and the general public remain torn on the extent to which affirmative action helps and hinders—and this is a topic unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.

To read the full text of Powell’s opinion, click here.

To listen to the oral argument and the opinion announcement, click here.

For more information, and to view photos and video footage, click here.

To learn more, check out Howard Ball’s The Bakke Case: Race, Education, and Affirmative Action (University Press of Kansas, 2000).

For more on racial diversity in California, check out Mark Brilliant’s The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights Reform in California, 1941-1978 (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Numerous books discuss affirmative action, including Terry Anderson’s The Pursuit of Fairness: A History of Affirmative Action (Oxford University Press, 2005) and George Curry’s The Affirmative Action Debate (Basic Books, 1996).

On This Day: Faragher v. City of Boca Raton

On June 26, 1998—only 14 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Faragher v. City of Boca Raton identified the circumstances under which an employer may be held liable for sexual harassment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Beth Ann Faragher, a former ocean lifeguard, sued the City of Boca Raton and her immediate supervisors, alleging that she had faced a sexually hostile atmosphere characterized by uninvited touching and offensive comments. She argued that this treatment violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case made its way through district court and the court of appeals before the Supreme Court heard arguments in 1998. Although the Supreme Court had previously heard cases concerned with the definition of sexual harassment in the work place, the Faragher case—in tandem with Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth (decided the same day)—questioned the extent to which a company was liable for the actions of an employee who harassed another employee.

The decision read, in part:

The District Court found that the City had entirely failed to disseminate its policy against sexual harassment among the beach employees and that its officials made no attempt to keep track of the conduct of supervisors like Terry and Silverman. The record also makes clear that the City’s policy did not include any assurance that the harassing supervisors could be bypassed in registering complaints. . . . Under such circumstances, we hold as a matter of law that the City could not be found to have exercised reasonable care to prevent the supervisors’ harassing conduct. Unlike the employer of a small workforce, who might expect that sufficient care to prevent tortious behavior could be exercised informally, those responsible for city operations could not reasonably have thought that precautions against hostile environments in any one of many departments in far-flung locations could be effective without communicating some formal policy against harassment, with a sensible complaint procedure.

The ruling, in tandem with the same-day ruling in Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, very clearly defined the responsibilities and rights of companies and their employees. The decision made some lawsuits against employers easier to win, while simultaneously limiting the extent to which workplaces with effective anti-harassment policies could be held liable.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

To learn more, click here, or check out this article from the Florida Bar Journal.

To read the New York Times article published that day, click here.

Catharine MacKinnon’s Sexual Harassment of Working Women (Yale University Press, 1979) and Julie Berebitsky’s Sex and the Office (Yale University Press, 2012) examine sexual harassment, providing excellent context for understanding this ruling.

On This Day: Olmstead v. L.C.

On June 22, 1999—only 13 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C. tackled an important piece of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ruling that unjustified isolation of disabled individuals qualifies as discrimination based on disability.

Two Georgia women who suffered from mental retardation and mental illness were voluntarily admitted to the Georgia Regional Hospital during the 1990s. Both women were forced to remain institutionalized for additional time, despite their treatment professionals’ beliefs that they could be effectively served within the general community.

One woman brought suit, and the other intervened in the action with an identical claim. The case made its way through district court and the court of appeals before being heard by the United States Supreme Court.

The Court argued that institutionalization severely limits individuals’ abilities to interact and to make lives for themselves. The decision read, in part:

Recognition that unjustified institutional isolation of persons with disabilities is a form of discrimination reflects two evident judgments. First, institutional placement of persons who can handle and benefit from community settings perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life. . . . Second, confinement in an institution severely diminishes the everyday life activities of individuals, including family relations, social contacts, work options, economic independence, educational advancement, and cultural enrichment. . . . Dissimilar treatment correspondingly exists in this key respect: In order to receive needed medical services, persons with mental disabilities must, because of those disabilities, relinquish participation in community life they could enjoy given reasonable accommodations, while persons without mental disabilities can receive the medical services they need without sacrifice.

In essence, the ruling required that states eliminate unnecessary isolation of disabled individuals and provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to suit each individual’s needs.

The Olmstead decision, as the first Supreme Court case to involve the “integration mandate” of the Americans with Disabilities Act, set an important precedent in ensuring that disabled individuals receive care in an integrated setting whenever possible. The two plaintiffs in the case ultimately flourished under supportive housing within the community, providing effective examples of the benefits disabled individuals often can receive from community-based living.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

For more information, check out this fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and this detailed summary (complete with links) from the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. This summary from the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is also very helpful.

To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, click here.

To learn more about current efforts to enforce the Olmstead decision, click here.

For more about discrimination against mentally disabled individuals, check out Michael Perlin’s The Hidden Prejudice: Mental Disability on Trial (American Psychological Association, 2000).

To learn more about disability policy, check out Jennifer Erkulwater’s Disability Rights and the American Social Safety Net (Cornell University Press, 2006).

William Hollister, J. Wilbert Edgerton, and Rebecca Hunter’s Alternative Services in Community Mental Health: Programs and Processes (1985)—available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection—outlines ways in which disabled individuals can be served within a community setting.

Remembering Guinn v. United States

On June 21, 1915—97 years ago today—in the landmark Guinn v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down Oklahoma’s grandfather clause, marking an important step in the fight for suffrage for all citizens, regardless of race.

The clause, part of the Voter Registration Act of 1910, required voters to pass a literacy test; however, it exempted citizens who were entitled to vote on January 1, 1866 (before African Americans gained suffrage through the Fifteenth Amendment), and those whose ancestors (“grandfathers”) were entitled to vote at that time.

Unsurprisingly, given the racial discrimination prevalent at the time, local voter registration officials applied the law in different ways. Often, they imposed unreasonable literacy tests on African American applicants—or refused to administer the test at all.

Finally, in 1915, the federal government prosecuted voter registration officials for denying African American citizens of Oklahoma the right to vote, as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Also in question was a piece of Maryland’s constitution, which carried similar restrictions.

In a unanimous ruling (one justice sat out), the Supreme Court struck down the restrictions as unconstitutional. The decision read, in part:

. . . how can there be room for any serious dispute concerning the repugnancy of the standard based upon January 1, 1866 (a date which preceded the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment), if the suffrage provision fixing that standard is susceptible of the significance with which the Government attributes to it? Indeed, there seems no escape from the conclusion that to hold that there was even possibility for dispute on the subject would be but to declare that the Fifteenth Amendment not only had not the self-executing power which it has been recognized to have from the beginning, but that its previous provisions were wholly inoperative, because susceptible of being rendered inapplicable by more forms of expression embodying no exercise of judgment and resting upon no discernible reason other than the purpose to disregard the prohibitions of the Amendment by creating a standard of voting which on its face was, in substance, but a revitalization of conditions which, when they prevailed in the past, had been destroyed by the self-operative force of the Amendment.

Although the ruling had little short-term effect (Oklahoma quickly passed new voter registration restrictions), it led to the dismantling of similar restrictions in other southern states, such as Alabama, North Carolina, Louisiana, Virginia, and Georgia. The battle for suffrage continued for many more decades, but the ruling marked an important step toward the eventual banning of voting restrictions seen in the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To read the full text of the Supreme Court decision, click here.

For more information, click here, and check out this entry from the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture.

For more on disfranchisement, click here, or check out Michael Perman’s Struggle for Mastery: Disfranchisement in the South, 1888-1908 (UNC Press, 2001).

For more on suffrage, check out J. Morgan Kousser’s Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction (UNC Press, 1999) and Charles S. Bullock III and Ronald Keith Gaddie’s The Triumph of Voting Rights in the South (University of Oklahoma Press, 2009).

Remembering Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.

On June 17, 1968—44 years ago today—the Supreme Court in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., acknowledging Congress’s power to “determine what are the badges and incidents of slavery, and the authority to translate that determination into effective legislation,” barred racial discrimination, both private and public, in the sale or rental of property.

Three years earlier, Joseph Lee Jones and his wife, who were African American, filed complaint in a district court in Missouri, arguing that they had been denied the opportunity to buy a home in a St. Louis County subdivision solely because of their race. After legal wrangling in district court and the court of appeals, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Coming only two months after the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the 7-to-2 decision read, in part:

. . . Just as the Black Codes, enacted after the Civil War to restrict the free exercise of those rights, were substitutes for the slave system, so the exclusion of Negroes from white communities became a substitute for the Black Codes. And when racial discrimination herds men into ghettos and makes their ability to buy property turn on the color of their skin, then it too is a relic of slavery.

Negro citizens, North and South, who saw in the Thirteenth Amendment a promise of freedom—freedom to “go and come at pleasure” and to “buy and sell when they please”—would be left with “a mere paper guarantee” if Congress were powerless to assure that a dollar in the hands of a Negro will purchase the same thing as a dollar in the hands of a white man. At the very least, the freedom that Congress is empowered to secure under the Thirteenth Amendment includes the freedom to buy whatever a white man can buy, the right to live wherever a white man can live. If Congress cannot say that being a free man means at least this much, then the Thirteenth Amendment made a promise the Nation cannot keep.

The Supreme Court thus took a strong stance in the fight against housing discrimination—a struggle which had been fought in courtrooms across America for many decades. Each ruling and each piece of legislation—from Corrigan v. Buckley (1926) to Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) to later cases—provided stronger protections against housing discrimination. Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. was an important step in this journey.

To read the full text of the decision, click here.

To listen to the oral argument, click here.

For a discussion of the extent of Congress’s enforcement powers, check out this website from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

For more on housing discrimination in Missouri, check out this page from the St. Louis Beacon.

For more about the fight against housing discrimination, click here.

To learn more about the struggle against housing discrimination, check out John M. Goering’s edited volume, Housing Desegregation and Federal Policy, available through UNC Press’s Enduring Editions collection.

For a comprehensive list of civil rights legislation, click here.