326 U.S. 88 (1945), 691, Railway Mail Association v. Corsi

Docket Nº:No. 691
Citation:326 U.S. 88, 65 S.Ct. 1483, 89 L.Ed. 2072
Party Name:Railway Mail Association v. Corsi
Case Date:June 18, 1945
Court:United States Supreme Court

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326 U.S. 88 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 1483, 89 L.Ed. 2072

Railway Mail Association



No. 691

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 1945

Argued April 3, 1945



Section 43 of the New York Civil Rights Law forbids any "labor organization" to deny any person membership by reason of his race, color, or creed, or to deny any member, by reason of race, color, or creed, equal treatment in designation for employment, promotion, or dismissal by any employer; other sections prescribe penalties and enforcement procedure. Appellant Railway Mail Association, an organization of regular and substitute postal clerks, limits its membership to persons of the Caucasian race and native American Indians.


l. An appeal from a state court declaratory judgment that § 43 was applicable to the appellant and valid as so applied presents a justiciable "case or controversy" under §§ 1 and 2 of Article III of the Federal Constitution. P. 93.

2. Section 43 is not violative of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as an interference with appellant's right of selection of membership nor as an abridgment of its property rights and liberty of contract. P. 93.

3. The fact that appellant is subject to § 43 as a "labor organization," although excluded (as an organization of government employees) from the benefits of collective bargaining provisions of the state labor law, involves no denial of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 94.

4. As applied to appellant, § 43 is not repugnant to the provision of Art. I, § 8, cl. 7 of the Federal Constitution, conferring on Congress power over the postal service. P. 95.

5. Congress has not so clearly manifested an intent to occupy the field of regulation of organizations of federal employees as to exclude the state regulation here involved. P. 97.

293 N.Y. 315, 56 N.E.2d 721, affirmed.

Appeal from a judgment upholding the constitutionality of a state law as applied to the appellant association.

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REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellant, Railway Mail Association, questioned the validity of Section 43, and related Sections 41 and 45, of the New York Civil Rights Law, which provide, under penalty against its officers and members, that no labor organization shall deny a person membership by reason of race, color, or creed, or deny to any of its members, by reason of race, color, or creed, equal treatment in the designation of its members for employment, promotion, or dismissal by an employer.1 Appellant contended that it was not a "labor organization" [65 S.Ct. 1486] subject to these sections, and that, if they were held to apply to it, they

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violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the federal Constitution, and were in conflict with the federal power over post offices and post roads. Article I, Section 8, Clause 7, of the federal Constitution. The New York Court of Appeals rejected these contentions.2 On appeal to this Court, consideration of the question of jurisdiction was postponed to the hearing on the merits for determination of whether the case presented a "case or controversy" within the meaning of the federal Constitution. The jurisdiction of this Court rests on Section 237(a) of the Judicial Code.

The appellant, Railway Mail Association, a New Hampshire corporation, is an organization with a membership

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of some 22,000 regular and substitute postal clerks of the United States Railway Mail Service. It has division and branch associations, thirteen of such branch associations being located in different parts of New York. Article III of appellant's constitution limits membership in the association to eligible postal clerks who are of the Caucasian race or native American Indians.3 Certain officers and members of one of appellant's branch associations raised the question of the validity of Article III of appellant's constitution with the appellee, the Industrial Commissioner of the New York, who was charged with enforcement of Section 43. Faced with the threat of enforcement of the statute against it, the appellant filed suit against the Industrial Commissioner in a state court for a declaratory judgment to determine the validity of Section 43 and related provisions, and for an injunction restraining its enforcement against the appellant. A state Supreme Court entered judgment for the appellant, finding that it was not a "labor organization" as defined in Section 43 of the state statute.4 On appeal to the Appellate Division, this judgment was reversed, the appellate court finding that appellant was covered by Section 43, and that Section 43, as applied to appellant, did not violate the federal Constitution.5

On appeal to the New York Court of Appeals, the judgment against the appellant was affirmed. The Court of Appeals noted that appellant's constitution provided that one of the objects of the association was to enable railway

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postal clerks "to perfect any movement that may be for their benefit as a class or for the benefit of the Railway Mail Service. . . . ;"6 that the Industrial Secretary of the Association7 was to assist in the presentation of grievances pertaining to service conditions and endeavor to secure adjustment of such through administrative action.8 It was pointed out that appellant was affiliated with the American Federation of Labor, and that the appellant was designated a "labor union" in the Bulletin of the United States Department of Labor, as well as in various trade union publications and reports. Appellant's own publications claimed credit for [65 S.Ct. 1487] bringing "to every railway postal clerk many material benefits" and "many additional millions of dollars brought to the pockets of railway postal clerks each year by the efforts of the Association," and pointed out that

Reforms always come as a result of demands from the worker. If better conditions are worth securing, they must come as the result of organized effort.9

In the light of this evidence, the Court of Appeals held appellant to be a "labor organization" as defined in Section 43. As heretofore stated, it rejected appellant's contentions that the statute, as applied to it, violated the federal Constitution.

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Prior to consideration of the issues, it is necessary to determine whether appeal from this state court declaratory judgment proceeding presents a justiciable "case or controversy" under Sections 1 and 2 of Article III of the federal Constitution. We are of the opinion that it does. The conflicting contentions of the parties in this case as to the validity of the state statute present a real, substantial controversy between parties having adverse legal interests -- a dispute definite and concrete, not hypothetical or abstract. Legal rights asserted by appellant are threatened with imminent invasion by appellees, and will be directly affected to a specific and substantial degree by decision of the questions of law.10 Nashville, C. & St.L. Ry. v. Wallace, 288 U.S. 249, 261-262. See Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 242; Currin v. Wallace, 306 U.S. 1, 9; Gibbs v. Buck, 307 U.S. 66, 76-77; Maryland Casualty Co. v. Pacific Coal & Oil Co., 312 U.S. 270, 272-273; Tennessee Coal, Iron & R. Co. v. Muscoda Local, 321 U.S. 590, 592. Cf. Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510.

Appellant first contends that Section 4311 and related Sections 41 and 45 of the New York Civil Rights Law, as applied to appellant, offends the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as an interference with its right of selection to membership and abridgment of its property rights and liberty of contract. We have here a prohibition of discrimination in membership or union services on account of race, creed, or color. A judicial determination that such

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legislation violated the Fourteenth Amendment would be a distortion of the policy manifested in that amendment, which was adopted to prevent state legislation designed to perpetuate discrimination on the basis of race or color. We see no constitutional basis for the contention that a state cannot protect workers from exclusion solely on the basis of race, color, or creed by an organization, functioning under the protection of the state, which holds itself out to represent the general business needs of employees.12

To deny a fellow employee membership because of race, color, or creed may operate to prevent that employee from having any part in the determination of labor policies to be promoted and adopted in the industry, and deprive him of all means of protection from unfair treatment arising out of the fact that the terms imposed by a dominant union apply to all employees, whether union members or not. In their very nature, racial and religious minorities are likely to be so small in number in any particular industry as to be unable to form an effective organization for securing settlement of their grievances and [65 S.Ct. 1488] consideration of their group aims with respect to conditions of employment. The fact that the employer is the Government has no significance from this point of view.13

Appellant's second ground for...

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