384 U.S. 808 (1966), 471, City of Greenwood v. Peacock

Docket Nº:No. 471
Citation:384 U.S. 808, 86 S.Ct. 1800, 16 L.Ed.2d 944
Party Name:City of Greenwood v. Peacock
Case Date:June 20, 1966
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 808

384 U.S. 808 (1966)

86 S.Ct. 1800, 16 L.Ed.2d 944

City of Greenwood

v.

Peacock

No. 471

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 1966

Argued April 26, 1966

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Various state criminal charges were brought against the individual petitioners, members of groups engaging in civil rights activities in Mississippi in 1964, and they filed petitions to remove their cases to the Federal District Court alleging under 28 U.S.C. § 1443(1) that they were denied or could not enforce in the state courts rights under laws providing for the equal civil rights of citizens, and under 28 U.S.C. § 1443(2) that they were being prosecuted for acts done under color of the authority of the Constitution and laws of the United States. The § 1443(1) removal claims were fundamentally based on allegations (1) that the individual petitioners were arrested because they were Negroes or were helping Negroes assert their rights and that they were innocent of the charges against them, or (2) that they would be unable to obtain fair state trials. The § 1443(2) removal claims were based on the contention that the various federal constitutional and statutory provisions (including 42 U.S.C. § § 1971 and 1981) invoked in the removal petitions conferred "color of authority" on the individual petitioners to commit the acts for which they are being prosecuted. The District Court, on motion, remanded the cases to the city police court for trial. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a valid removal claim under § 1443(1) had been stated by allegations that a state statute had been applied before trial so as to deprive an accused of his equal civil rights where the arrest and charge thereunder were effected for reasons of racial discrimination, and remanded the cases to the District Court for a hearing on the truth of the allegations. The court rejected the § 1443(2) contentions, holding that provision available only to those who have acted in an official or quasi-official capacity under federal law.

Held:

1. The individual petitioners had no removal right under 28 U.S.C. § 1443(2), since, as the legislative history of that provision makes clear, that provision applies only in the case of federal

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officers and persons assisting such officers in performing their duties under a federal law providing for equal civil rights. Pp. 814-824.

2. Section 1443(1) permits removal only in the rare situation where it can be clearly predicted by reason of the operation of a pervasive and explicit law that federal rights will inevitably be denied by the very act of bringing the defendant to trial in the state court. Such not being the case here, the individual petitioners are not entitled to removal under § 1443(1). Pp. 824-828.

(a) Some of the rights invoked by the removal petitions, such as those of free expression under the First Amendment, clearly cannot meet the statutory definition of "equal civil rights." P. 825.

(b) Neither the two federal laws specifically referred to in the removal petitions (42 U.S.C. § § 1971, 1981), nor any others confer an absolute right on private citizens to commit the acts involved in the charges against the individual petitioners or grant immunity from state prosecution on such charges. Georgia v. Rachel, ante, p. 780, distinguished. Pp. 826-827.

(c) Removal under § 1443(1) cannot be supported merely by showing that there has been an illegal denial of civil rights by state officials in advance of trial, that the charges against the defendant are false, or that the defendant cannot obtain a fair trial in a particular state court. Pp. 827-828.

3. Section 1443(1) does not work a wholesale dislocation of the historic relationship between the state and federal courts in the administration of the criminal law, as the line of decisions from Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, to Kentucky v. Powers, 201 U.S. 1, makes clear. If changes are to be made in the long-settled interpretation of § 1443(1), it is for Congress, not this Court, to make them. Pp. 832-835.

347 F.2d 679, 986, reversed.

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STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

These consolidated cases, sequels to Georgia v. Rachel, ante, p. 780, involve prosecutions on various state criminal charges against 29 people who were allegedly engaged in the spring and summer of 1964 in civil rights activity in Leflore County, Mississippi. In the first case, 14 individuals were charged with obstructing the public streets of the City of Greenwood in violation of Mississippi law.1 They filed petitions to remove their cases to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi under 28 U.S.C. § 1443(1964 ed).2 Alleging

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that they were members of a civil rights group engaged in a drive to encourage Negro voter registration in Leflore County, their petitions stated that they were denied or could not enforce in the courts of the State rights under laws providing for the equal civil rights of citizens of the United States, and that they were being prosecuted for acts done under color of authority of the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1971 et seq. (1964 ed.).3 Additionally, their removal petitions alleged that [86 S.Ct. 1804] the statute under which they were charged was unconstitutionally vague on its face, that it was unconstitutionally

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applied to their conduct, and that its application was a part of a policy of racial discrimination fostered by the Mississippi and the City of Greenwood. The District Court sustained the motion of the City of Greenwood to remand the cases to the city police court for trial. The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that

a good claim for removal under § 1443(1) is stated by allegations that a state statute has been applied prior to trial so as to deprive an accused of his equal civil rights in that the arrest and charge under the statute were effected for reasons of racial discrimination.

Peacock v. City of Greenwood, 347 F.2d 679, 684. Accordingly, the cases were remanded to the District Court for a hearing on the truth of the defendants' allegations. At the same time, the Court of Appeals rejected the defendants' contentions under 28 U.S.C. § 1443(2), holding that removal under that subsection is available only to those who have acted in an official or quasi-official capacity under a federal law, and who can therefore be said to have acted under "color of authority" of the law within the meaning of that provision.4

In the second case, 15 people allegedly affiliated with a civil rights group were arrested at different times in July

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and August of 1964 and charged with various offenses against the laws of Mississippi or ordinances of the City of Greenwood.5 These defendants filed essentially identical petitions for removal in the District Court, denying that they had engaged in any conduct prohibited by valid laws and stating that their arrests and prosecutions were for the

sole purpose and effect of harassing Petitioners and of [86 S.Ct. 1805] punishing them for and deterring them from the exercise of their constitutionally protected right to protest the conditions of racial discrimination and segregation

in Mississippi. As grounds for removal, the defendants specifically invoked 28 U.S.C. § § 1443(1)6 and 1443(2).7 The District Court held that the cases

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had been improperly removed, and remanded them to the police court of the City of Greenwood. In a per curiam opinion finding the issues "identical with" those determined in the Peacock case, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded the cases to the District Court for a hearing on the truth of the defendants' allegations under § 1443(1). Weathers v. City of Greenwood, 347 F.2d 986.

We granted certiorari to consider the important questions raised by the parties concerning the scope of the civil rights removal statute. 382 U.S. 971.8 As in Georgia v. Rachel, ante, p. 780, we deal here not with questions of congressional power, but with issues of statutory construction.

I

The individual petitioners contend that, quite apart from 28 U.S.C. § 1443(1), they are entitled to remove their cases to the District Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1443(2), which authorizes the removal of a civil action or criminal prosecution for "any act under color of authority derived from any law providing for equal rights. . . ." The core of their contention is that the various federal constitutional and statutory provisions invoked in their removal petitions conferred "color of authority" upon them to perform the acts for which they

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are being prosecuted by the State. We reject this argument because we have concluded that the history of § 1443(2) demonstrates convincingly that this subsection of the removal statute is available only to federal officers and to persons assisting such officers in the performance of their official duties.9

[86 S.Ct. 1806] The progenitor of § 1443(2) was § 3 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27. Insofar as it is relevant here, that section granted removal of all criminal prosecutions

commenced in any State court . . . against any officer, civil or military, or other person, for any arrest or imprisonment, trespasses, or wrongs done or committed by virtue or under color of authority derived from this act or the act establishing a Bureau for the relief of Freedmen and Refugees, and all acts amendatory thereof. . . .

(Emphasis added.)

The statutory phrase "officer . . . or other person" characterizing the removal defendants in § 3 of the 1866 Act was carried forward without change through...

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