230 U.S. 126 (1913), 131, Butts v. Merchants & Miners Transportation Company

Docket NºNo. 131
Citation230 U.S. 126, 33 S.Ct. 964, 57 L.Ed. 1422
Party NameButts v. Merchants & Miners Transportation Company
Case DateJune 16, 1913
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 126

230 U.S. 126 (1913)

33 S.Ct. 964, 57 L.Ed. 1422

Butts

v.

Merchants & Miners Transportation Company

No. 131

United States Supreme Court

June 16, 1913

Argued January 21, 1913

ERROR TO THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

Syllabus

Where the greater part of a statute is unconstitutional as beyond the power of Congress, the question for the court to determine as to the part which is constitutional is whether it was the intent of Congress to have that part stand by itself -- if not, the whole statute falls.

This Court holds that it was the evident intent of Congress, in enacting the Civil Rights Act, to provide for its uniform operation in all places in the states as well as the territories within the jurisdiction of the United States, aud that it was not the intent of Congress that the provisions of the statute should be applicable only to such places

Page 127

as are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the national government. The provisions of the Civil Rights Act having been declared unconstitutional as to their operation within the states, Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, they are not separable as to their operation in such places as are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the national government, and the statute is therefore unconstitutional in its entirety. The Trade Mark Cases, 100 U.S. 82. The enforcement of a remedial statute, such as the Employers' Liability Act, in territories of the United States, although unconstitutional as to the states, is distinguishable from the similar enforcement of a highly penal statute such as the Civil Rights Act. El Paso &c. Railway Co. v. Gutierrez, 215 U.S. 87, distinguished.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality of §§ 1 and 2 of the Civil Rights Act of March 1, 1875, as applied to vessels of the United States engaged in the coastwise trade, are stated in the opinion.

Page 130

VANDEVANTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an action to recover twelve penalties of $500 each under §§ 1 and 2 of the Act of March 1, 1875, 18 Stat. 335, c. 114, known as the Civil Rights Act. According to the declaration, the facts are these: the plaintiff is a colored woman and a citizen of the United States, and the defendant is a Maryland corporation engaged in the transportation of passengers and freight by vessels plying between Boston, Massachusetts, and Norfolk, Virginia. Upon tickets purchased for the purpose, and entitling her to the accommodations and privileges of a first-class passenger, the plaintiff was carried by the defendant on one of its steamships from Boston to Norfolk, and on another back to Boston. Both vessels were engaged in the coastwise trade as public conveyances, and were duly enrolled under the laws of the United States. During both voyages, the plaintiff was denied, because of her color, the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations and privileges of a first-class passenger, the denials consisting in requiring her to take her meals at a second table, instead of at the first with the white passengers having tickets like her own, and in giving her a stateroom on the lower deck, instead of on the upper one, where the white passengers possessing like tickets were given rooms. The acts of discrimination were twelve in number. Eleven were charged as occurring upon the high seas, more than a marine league from any land, and the other as occurring merely upon the high seas. There was no attempt to set up a common law right of recovery, the sole reliance being upon §§ 1 and 2 of the Act of 1875, supra. The defendant demurred, claiming that those sections are unconstitutional and void, and the demurrer was sustained, judgment being given for the defendant. The plaintiff then sued out this direct writ of error.

Page 131

The preamble of the act and the sections under which the penalties are claimed are as follows:

Whereas it is essential to just government we recognize the equality of all men before the law, and hold that it is the duty of government in its dealings with the people to mete out equal and exact justice to all, of whatever nativity, race, color, or persuasion, religious or political, and it being the appropriate object of legislation to enact great fundamental principles into law, therefore,

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or [33 S.Ct. 965] water, theaters, and other places of public amusement, subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude.

SEC. 2. That any person who shall violate the foregoing section by denying to any citizen, except for reasons by law applicable to citizens of every race and color, and regardless of any previous condition of servitude, the full enjoyment of any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, or privileges in said section enumerated, or by aiding or inciting such denial, shall, for every such offense, forfeit and pay the sum of five hundred dollars to the person aggrieved thereby, to be recovered in an action of debt, with full costs, and shall also, for every such offense, be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than five hundred nor more than one thousand dollars, or shall be imprisoned not less than thirty days nor more than one year: Provided, That all persons may elect to sue for the penalty aforesaid, or to

Page 132

proceed under their rights at common law and by state statutes, and having so elected to proceed in the one mode or the other, their right to proceed in the other jurisdiction shall be barred. But this proviso shall not apply to criminal proceedings, either under this act or the criminal law of any state: And provided further, That a judgment for the penalty in favor of the party aggrieved, or a judgment upon an indictment, shall be a bar to either prosecution respectively.

The question of the constitutional validity of those sections came before this Court in Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, and, upon full consideration, it was held (a) that they receive no support from the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce because, as is shown by the preamble and by their terms, they were not enacted in the exertion of that power, and (b) that, as applied to the states, they are unconstitutional and void because in excess of the power conferred upon Congress, and an encroachment upon the powers reserved to the states respectively. That decision has stood unchallenged for almost thirty years, and counsel for the plaintiff does not question it now. But he does contend that, although unconstitutional and void in their...

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54 practice notes
  • 326 N.E.2d 59 (Ill.App. 1 Dist. 1975), 59865, Metromedia, Inc. v. City of Des Plaines
    • United States
    • Illinois Court of Appeals of Illinois
    • March 6, 1975
    ...to all it embraces. (United States v. Ju Toy (1905), 198 U.S. 253, 25 S.Ct. 644, 49 L.Ed. 1040; Butts v. Merchants' Transp. Co. (1913), 230 U.S. 126, 33 S.Ct. 964, 57 L.Ed. 1422.) The resolution of this question is one of law and not fact. Pacesetter Homes v. South Holland, supra. Since the......
  • 400 P.2d 531 (Wyo. 1965), 3350, Local Union No. 415 of Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers v. Hansen
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • April 7, 1965
    ...City of Cheyenne, supra, at 42 P.2d 419, Justice Blume speaking for this court cited Butts v. Merchants' & Miners' Transportation Co., 230 U.S. 126, 33 S.Ct. 964, 965, 57 L.Ed. 1422, where Congress had passed a law intended to apply to all persons and all places within the jurisdiction ......
  • 460 So.2d 325 (Ala.Crim.App. 1984), 3 Div. 932, State v. Woodruff
    • United States
    • Alabama Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • October 9, 1984
    ...only in a fraction of the cases it was originally designed to cover. See Butts v. Merchants & Miners Transportation Co., 230 U.S. 126 [33 S.Ct. 964, 57 L.Ed. 1422 (1913) ]. The same situation is presented when a state statute comes conclusively pronounced by a state court as having an o......
  • 229 N.Y. 363, Helme v. Buckelew
    • United States
    • New York New York Court of Appeals
    • July 7, 1920
    ...otherwise permissible (U. S. v. Ju Toy, 198 U.S. 253, 262; Hatch v. Reardon, 204 U.S. 152, 160; Butts v. Merchants & M. Transp. Co., 230 U.S. 126; Employers' Liability Cases, 207 U.S. 463; Fougera & Co. v. City of N.Y. , 224 N.Y. 269, 282; Dollar Co. v. Canadian C. & F. Co., sup......
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53 cases
  • 326 N.E.2d 59 (Ill.App. 1 Dist. 1975), 59865, Metromedia, Inc. v. City of Des Plaines
    • United States
    • Illinois Court of Appeals of Illinois
    • March 6, 1975
    ...to all it embraces. (United States v. Ju Toy (1905), 198 U.S. 253, 25 S.Ct. 644, 49 L.Ed. 1040; Butts v. Merchants' Transp. Co. (1913), 230 U.S. 126, 33 S.Ct. 964, 57 L.Ed. 1422.) The resolution of this question is one of law and not fact. Pacesetter Homes v. South Holland, supra. Since the......
  • 400 P.2d 531 (Wyo. 1965), 3350, Local Union No. 415 of Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers v. Hansen
    • United States
    • Wyoming Supreme Court of Wyoming
    • April 7, 1965
    ...City of Cheyenne, supra, at 42 P.2d 419, Justice Blume speaking for this court cited Butts v. Merchants' & Miners' Transportation Co., 230 U.S. 126, 33 S.Ct. 964, 965, 57 L.Ed. 1422, where Congress had passed a law intended to apply to all persons and all places within the jurisdiction ......
  • 460 So.2d 325 (Ala.Crim.App. 1984), 3 Div. 932, State v. Woodruff
    • United States
    • Alabama Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • October 9, 1984
    ...only in a fraction of the cases it was originally designed to cover. See Butts v. Merchants & Miners Transportation Co., 230 U.S. 126 [33 S.Ct. 964, 57 L.Ed. 1422 (1913) ]. The same situation is presented when a state statute comes conclusively pronounced by a state court as having an o......
  • 229 N.Y. 363, Helme v. Buckelew
    • United States
    • New York New York Court of Appeals
    • July 7, 1920
    ...otherwise permissible (U. S. v. Ju Toy, 198 U.S. 253, 262; Hatch v. Reardon, 204 U.S. 152, 160; Butts v. Merchants & M. Transp. Co., 230 U.S. 126; Employers' Liability Cases, 207 U.S. 463; Fougera & Co. v. City of N.Y. , 224 N.Y. 269, 282; Dollar Co. v. Canadian C. & F. Co., sup......
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1 books & journal articles
  • Conceptual gulfs in City of Boerne v. Flores.
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 39 Nbr. 3, February 1998
    • February 1, 1998
    ...in places under the exclusive control of the federal government held not severable in Butts v. Merchants & Miners Trans. Co., 230 U.S. 126 (1913)) (forbidding private discrimination in places of public accommodation). (139.) See City of Boerne v. Flores, 117 S. Ct. 2157, 2167 (1997). (1......