373 U.S. 526 (1963), 424, Watson v. City of Memphis

Docket Nº:No. 424
Citation:373 U.S. 526, 83 S.Ct. 1314, 10 L.Ed.2d 529
Party Name:Watson v. City of Memphis
Case Date:May 27, 1963
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 526

373 U.S. 526 (1963)

83 S.Ct. 1314, 10 L.Ed.2d 529

Watson

v.

City of Memphis

No. 424

United States Supreme Court

May 27, 1963

Argued April 17-18, 1963

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In 1960, petitioners, Negro residents of Memphis, Tenn., sued in a Federal District Court for declaratory and injunctive relief directing immediate desegregation of public parks and other publicly owned or operated recreational facilities from which Negroes were still excluded. The City denied neither the fact that the majority of the relevant facilities were operated on a segregated basis nor its duty under the Fourteenth Amendment to terminate its policy of conditioning use of such facilities on race. Instead, it pointed to the partial desegregation already effected and attempted to justify its further delay in conforming fully to constitutional mandates by urging the need and wisdom of proceeding slowly and gradually in its desegregation efforts. There was no evidence that there had been any violence or meaningful disturbances when other recreational facilities had been desegregated, and there was evidence that such prior transitions had been peaceful. The District Court denied the relief sought and ordered the City to submit within six months a plan providing additional time for desegregation of the relevant facilities.

Held: the continued denial to petitioners of the use of city facilities solely because of their race is without warrant, and prompt vindication of their rights is required. Pp. 528-539.

(a) In considering the appropriateness of the equitable decree entered below inviting a plan calling for an even longer delay in effecting desegregation, this Court cannot ignore the passage of a substantial period of time since the original declaration of the manifest unconstitutionality of racial practices such as are here challenged, the repeated and numerous decisions giving notice of such illegality, and the many intervening opportunities heretofore available to attain the equality of treatment which the Fourteenth Amendment commands the States to achieve. Pp. 529-530.

(b) This Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, never contemplated that the concept of "deliberate speed" would countenance indefinite delay in elimination of racial barriers

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in public schools, let alone other public facilities not involving the same physical problems or comparable conditions. P. 530.

(c) Desegregation of parks and other recreational facilities does not present the same kinds of cognizable difficulties inhering in elimination of racial classification in schools, at which attendance is compulsory, the adequacy of teachers and facilities crucial, and questions of geographic assignment often of major significance. Pp. 530-532.

(d) Even the delay countenanced by Brown was a necessary, albeit significant, adaptation of the usual principle that any deprivation of constitutional rights calls for prompt rectification.c The rights here asserted are, like all such rights, present rights, and unless there is an overwhelmingly compelling reason, they are to be promptly fulfilled. Pp. 532-533.

(e) The claims of the City to further delay in affording the petitioners that to which they are clearly and unquestionably entitled cannot be upheld except upon the most convincing and impressive demonstration by the City that such delay is manifestly compelled by constitutionally cognizable circumstances warranting the exercise of an appropriate equitable discretion by a court. P. 533.

(f) Constitutional rights may not be denied simply because of hostility to their assertion or exercise. Pp. 535-536.

(g) The City has failed to demonstrate any compelling or convincing reason requiring further delay in implementing the constitutional proscription of segregation of publicly owned or operated recreational facilities. Pp. 534-539.

303 F.2d 863, reversed.

Page 528

GOLDBERG, J., lead opinion

[83 S.Ct. 1316] MR. JUSTICE GOLDBERG delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in this case, simply stated, is whether the City of Memphis may further delay in meeting fully its constitutional obligation under the Fourteenth Amendment to desegregate its public parks and other municipal recreational facilities.

The petitioners, adult Negro residents of Memphis, commenced this action against the city in May, 1960, in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief directing immediate desegregation of municipal parks and other city owned or operated recreational facilities from which Negroes were then still excluded. The city denied neither the fact that the majority of the relevant facilities were operated on a segregated basis nor its duty under the Fourteenth Amendment to terminate its policy of conditioning use of such facilities on race. Instead, it pointed to the partial desegregation already effected and attempted to justify its further delay in conforming fully and at once to constitutional mandates by urging the need and wisdom of proceeding slowly and gradually in its desegregation efforts.

The District Court denied the relief sought by the petitioners and ordered the city to submit, within six months, a plan providing additional time for desegregation of the relevant facilities.1 The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 303 F.2d 863. We granted certiorari, 371 U.S. 909, to consider the important question presented and the applicability here of the principles enunciated by this Court in the second Brown decision, Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294, upon which the

Page 529

courts below relied in further delaying complete vindication of the petitioners' constitutional rights.

We find the second Brown decision to be inapplicable here, and accordingly reverse the judgment below.

I

It is important at the outset to note the chronological context in which the city makes its claim to entitlement to additional time within which to work out complete elimination of racial barriers to use of the public facilities here involved. It is now more than nine years since this Court held in the first Brown decision, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, that racial segregation in state public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. And it was almost eight years ago -- in 1955, the year after the decision on the merits in Brown -- that the constitutional proscription of state enforced racial segregation was found to apply to public recreational facilities. See Dawson v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 220 F.2d 386, aff'd, 350 U.S. 877; see also Muir v. Louisville Park Theatrical Assn., 347 U.S. 971.

Thus, the applicability here of the factors and reasoning relied on in framing the 1955 decree in the second Brown decision, supra, which contemplated the possible need of some limited delay in effecting total desegregation of public schools, must be considered not only in the context of factual similarities, if any, between that case and this one, but also in light of the significant fact that the governing constitutional principles no longer bear the imprint of newly enunciated doctrine. In...

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