312 U.S. 496 (1941), 283, Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Company

Docket Nº:No. 283
Citation:312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971
Party Name:Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman Company
Case Date:March 03, 1941
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 496

312 U.S. 496 (1941)

61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971

Railroad Commission of Texas


Pullman Company

No. 283

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1941

Argued February 4, 1941




A railroad company, some of whose trains in Texas had each but one Pullman sleeping car and that in charge of a colored porter subject to the control of the train conductor, assailed in the federal court, as unauthorized by Texas statutes and as violative of the Federal Constitution, a regulation by a state commission which would require that such cars be continuously in charge of an employee "having the rank and position of a Pullman conductor." Pullman porters, intervening, also attacked the order, adopting the railroad's objections but urging mainly that it discriminated against Negroes in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, Pullman porters being Negroes and the conductors white.


Page 497

1. Decision of the issue of unconstitutional discrimination should be withheld pending proceedings to be taken in the state courts to secure a definitive construction of the state statute. P. 498.

2. The federal courts, when asked for the extraordinary remedy of injunction, will exercise a sound discretion in the public interest to avoid needless friction with state policies that may result from tentative constructions of state statutes and premature adjudication on their constitutionality. P. 500.

33 F.Supp. 675, reversed.

APPEAL from a decree of the District Court of three judges which enjoined the enforcement of an order of the above-named Railroad Commission.

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

[61 S.Ct. 644] In those sections of Texas where the local passenger traffic is slight, trains carry but one sleeping car. These trains, unlike trains having two or more sleepers, are without a Pullman conductor; the sleeper is in charge of a porter, who is subject to the train conductor's control. As is well known, porters on Pullmans are colored, and conductors are white. Addressing itself to this situation, the Texas Railroad Commission, after due hearing, ordered that

no sleeping car shall be operated on any line of railroad in the State of Texas . . . unless such

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cars are continuously in the charge of an employee . . . having the rank and position of Pullman conductor.

Thereupon, the Pullman Company and the railroads affected brought this action in a federal district court to enjoin the Commission's order. Pullman porters were permitted to intervene as complainants, and Pullman conductors entered the litigation in support of the order. Three judges having been convened, Judicial Code, § 266, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 380, the court enjoined enforcement of the order. From this decree, the case came here directly. Judicial Code, § 238, as amended, 28 U.S.C. § 345.

The Pullman Company and the railroads assailed the order as unauthorized by Texas law, as well as violative of the Equal Protection, the Due Process, and the Commerce Clauses of the Constitution. The intervening porters adopted these objections, but mainly objected to the order as a discrimination against Negroes in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The complaint of the Pullman porters undoubtedly tendered a substantial constitutional issue. It is more than substantial. It touches a sensitive area of social policy upon which the federal courts ought not to enter unless no alternative to its adjudication is open. Such constitutional adjudication plainly can be avoided if a definitive ruling on the state issue would terminate the controversy. It is therefore our duty to turn to a consideration of questions under Texas law.

The Commission found justification for its order in a Texas statute which we quote in the margin. * It is common

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ground that, if the order is within the Commission's authority, its subject matter must be included in the Commission's power to prevent "unjust discrimination . . . and to prevent any and all other abuses" in the conduct of railroads. Whether arrangements pertaining to the staffs of Pullman cars are covered by the Texas concept of "discrimination" is far from clear. What practices of the railroads may be deemed to be "abuses" subject to the Commission's correction is equally doubtful. Reading the Texas statutes and the Texas decisions as outsiders...

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