328 U.S. 373 (1946), 704, Morgan v. Virginia

Docket Nº:No. 704
Citation:328 U.S. 373, 66 S.Ct. 1050, 90 L.Ed. 1317
Party Name:Morgan v. Virginia
Case Date:June 03, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 373

328 U.S. 373 (1946)

66 S.Ct. 1050, 90 L.Ed. 1317




No. 704

United States Supreme Court

June 3, 1946

Argued March 27, 1946



1. Provisions of the Virginia Code, 1942, §§ 4097z to 4097dd, which require the separation of white and colored passengers on both interstate and intrastate motor carriers are invalid as applied to interstate passengers in vehicles moving interstate, because they burden interstate commerce contrary to Art. I, § 8, cl. 3 of the Constitution of the United States, even though Congress has enacted no legislation on the subject. Pp. 374, 380, 386.

2. If a state statute unlawfully burdens interstate commerce, the powers reserved to the State by the Tenth Amendment will not validate it. P. 376.

3. An interstate passenger, charged in a criminal proceeding with violation of the statute, is a proper person to challenge its validity as a burden on interstate commerce. P. 376.

4. State legislation is invalid if it unduly burdens interstate commerce where uniformity is necessary in the constitutional sense of useful in accomplishing a permitted purpose. Pp. 377, 380.

5. A State cannot impose undue burdens on interstate commerce by simply invoking the convenient apologetics of the police power. P. 380.

6. Seating arrangements for the different races in interstate motor travel require a single uniform rule to promote and protect national travel. P. 386.

184 Va. 24, 34 S.E.2d 491, reversed.

Appellant, an interstate passenger, was convicted of a violation of Virginia Code, 1942, § 4097dd, relating to the segregation of white and colored passengers on motor buses. The Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia affirmed. 184 Va. 24, 34 S.E.2d 491. On appeal to this Court, reversed, p. 386.

Page 374

REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

[66 S.Ct. 1052] This appeal brings to this Court the question of the constitutionality of an act of Virginia1 which requires all passenger motor vehicle carriers, both interstate and intrastate,2 to separate without discrimination3 the white and colored passengers in their motor buses so that contiguous seats will not be occupied by persons of different races at the same time. A violation of the requirement of separation by the carrier is a misdemeanor.4 The driver or other person in charge is directed and required to increase or decrease the space allotted to the respective races as may be necessary or proper, and may require passengers to change their seats to comply with the allocation. The operator's failure to enforce the provisions is made a misdemeanor.5

These regulations were applied to an interstate passenger, this appellant, on a motor vehicle then making an interstate run or trip. According to the statement of fact by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, appellant, who is a Negro, was traveling on a motor common carrier,

Page 375

operating under the above-mentioned statute, from Gloucester County, Virginia, through the District of Columbia, to Baltimore, Maryland, the destination of the bus. There were other passengers, both white and colored. On her refusal to accede to a request of the driver to move to a back seat, which was partly occupied by other colored passengers, so as to permit the seat that she vacated to be used by white passengers, a warrant was obtained and appellant was arrested, tried, and convicted of a violation of Section 4097dd of the Virginia Code.6 On a writ of error, the conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. 184 Va. 24, 34 S.E.2d 491. The Court of Appeals interpreted the Virginia statute as applicable to appellant, since the statute "embraces all motor vehicles and all

Page 376

passengers, both interstate and intrastate."7 The Court of Appeals refused to accept appellant's contention that the statute applied was invalid as a delegation of legislative power to the carrier by a concurrent holding

that no power is delegated to the carrier to legislate. . . . The statute itself condemns the defendant's conduct as a violation of law, and not the rule of the carrier.

Id. 184 Va. at 38, 34 S.E.2d at 497. No complaint is made as to these interpretations of the Virginia [66 S.Ct. 1053] statute by the Virginia court.8

The errors of the Court of Appeals that are assigned and relied upon by appellant are, in form, only two. The first is that the decision is repugnant to Clause 3, Section 8, Article I of the Constitution of the United States,9 and the second the holding that powers reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment include the power to require an interstate motor passenger to occupy a seat restricted for the use of his race. Actually, the first question alone needs consideration, for if the statute unlawfully burdens interstate commerce, the reserved powers of the state will not validate it.10

We think, as the Court of Appeals apparently did, that the appellant is a proper person to challenge the validity of this statute as a burden on commerce.11 If it is an invalid burden, the conviction under it would fail. The statute affects appellant as well as the transportation company. Constitutional protection against burdens on commerce

Page 377

is for her benefit on a criminal trial for violation of the challenged statute. Hatch v. Reardon, 204 U.S. 152, 160; Federation of Labor v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 450, 463.

This Court frequently must determine the validity of state statutes that are attacked as unconstitutional interferences with the national power over interstate commerce. This appeal presents that question as to a statute that compels racial segregation of interstate passengers in vehicles moving interstate.12

The precise degree of a permissible restriction on state power cannot be fixed generally, or indeed not even for one kind of state legislation, such as taxation or health or safety.13 There is a recognized abstract principle, however, that may be taken as a postulate for testing whether particular state legislation in the absence of action by Congress is beyond state power. This is that the state legislation is invalid if it unduly burdens that commerce in matters where uniformity is necessary -- necessary in the constitutional sense of useful in accomplishing a permitted purpose.14 Where uniformity is essential for the functioning of commerce, a state may not interpose its local regulation.15 Too true it is that the principle lacks in precision. Although the quality of such a principle is abstract, its application to the facts of a situation created by the attempted enforcement of a statute brings about a specific determination as to whether or not the statute

Page 378

in question is a burden on commerce. Within the broad limits of the [66 S.Ct. 1054] principle, the cases turn on their own facts.

In the field of transportation, there have been a series of decisions which hold that, where Congress has not acted, and although the state statute affects interstate commerce, a state may validly enact legislation which has predominantly only a local influence on the course of commerce.16 It is equally well settled that, even where Congress

Page 379

has not acted, state legislation or a final court order is invalid which materially affects interstate commerce.17

Page 380

Because the Constitution puts the ultimate power to regulate commerce in [66 S.Ct. 1055] Congress, rather than the states, the degree of state legislation's interference with that commerce may be weighed by federal courts to determine whether the burden makes the statute unconstitutional.18 The courts could not invalidate federal legislation for the same reason because Congress, within the limits of the Fifth Amendment, has authority to burden commerce if that seems to it a desirable means of accomplishing a permitted end.19

This statute is attacked on the ground that it imposes undue burdens on interstate commerce. It is said by the Court of Appeals to have been passed in the exercise of the state's police power to avoid friction between the races. But this Court pointed out years ago "that a state cannot avoid the operation of this rule by simply invoking the convenient apologetics of the police power."20 Burdens upon commerce are those actions of a state which directly "impair the usefulness of its facilities or such traffic."21 That impairment, we think, may arise from other causes than costs or long delays. A burden may arise from a state statute which requires interstate passengers to order

Page 381

their movements on the vehicle in accordance with local, rather than national, requirements.

On appellant's journey, this statute required that she sit in designated seats in Virginia.22 Changes in seat designation might be made "at any time" during the journey when "necessary or proper for the comfort and convenience of passengers." This occurred in this instance. Upon such change of designation, the statute authorizes the operator of the vehicle to require, as he did here, "any passenger to change his or her seat as it may be necessary or proper."23 An interstate passenger must, if necessary, repeatedly shift seats while [66 S.Ct. 1056] moving in Virginia to meet the seating requirements of the changing passenger group. On arrival at the District of Columbia line, the appellant would have had freedom to occupy any available seat, and so to the end of her journey.

Interstate passengers traveling via motors between the north and south or the east and west may pass through Virginia on through lines in the day or in the night. The large buses approach the comfort of pullmans, and have seats convenient for rest. On such interstate journeys, the enforcement of the requirements for reseating would be disturbing.

Appellant's argument, properly we think, includes facts bearing on interstate motor transportation beyond those...

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