392 U.S. 409 (1968), 645, Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.

Docket Nº:No. 645
Citation:392 U.S. 409, 88 S.Ct. 2186, 20 L.Ed.2d 1189
Party Name:Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.
Case Date:June 17, 1968
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 409

392 U.S. 409 (1968)

88 S.Ct. 2186, 20 L.Ed.2d 1189

Jones

v.

Alfred H. Mayer Co.

No. 645

United States Supreme Court

June 17, 1968

Argued April 1-2, 1968

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioners, alleging that respondents had refused to sell them a home for the sole reason that petitioner Joseph Lee Jones is a Negro, filed a complaint in the District Court, seeking injunctive and other relief. Petitioners relied in part upon 42 U.S.C. § 1982, which provides that all citizens

shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.

The District Court dismissed the complaint, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that § 1982 applies only to state action, and does not reach private refusals to sell.

Held:

1. Congress' enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, containing in Title VIII detailed housing provisions applicable to a broad range of discriminatory practices and enforceable by a complete arsenal of federal authority, had no effect upon this litigation or upon § 1982, a general statute limited to racial discrimination in the sale and rental of property and enforceable only by private parties acting on their own initiative. Pp. 413-417.

2. Section 1982 applies to all racial discrimination in the sale or rental of property. Pp. 417-437.

(a) Section 1982 has previously been construed to do more than grant Negro citizens the general legal capacity to buy and rent property free of prohibitions that wholly disable them because of their race. Hurd v. Hodge, 334 U.S. 24. Pp. 417-419.

(b) The question whether purely private discrimination, unaided by any governmental action, violates § 1982 remains one of first impression in this Court. Hurd v. Hodge, supra; Corrigan v. Buckley, 271 U.S. 323; the Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, and Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313, distinguished. Pp. 419-420.

(c) On its face, the language of § 1982 appears to prohibit all discrimination against Negroes in the sale or rental of property. Pp. 420-422.

(d) The legislative history of § 1982, which was part of § 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, likewise shows that both Houses of Congress believed that they were enacting a comprehensive statute

Page 410

forbidding every form of racial discrimination affecting the basic civil rights enumerated therein -- including the right to purchase or lease property -- and thereby securing all such rights against interference from any source whatever, whether governmental or private. Pp. 422-436.

(e) The scope of the 1866 Act was not altered when it was reenacted in 1870, two years after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 436-437.

(f) That § 1982 lay partially dormant for many years does not diminish its force today. P. 437.

3. Congress has power under the Thirteenth Amendment to do what 42 U.S.C. § 1982 purports to do. Pp. 437-444.

(a) Because the Thirteenth Amendment

is not a mere prohibition of State laws establishing or upholding slavery, but an absolute declaration that slavery or involuntary servitude shall not exist in any part of the United States,

Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 20, it has never been doubted "that the power vested in Congress to enforce the article by appropriate legislation," ibid., includes the power to enact laws "operating upon the acts of individuals, whether sanctioned by State legislation or not." Id. at 23. See Clyatt v. United States, 197 U.S. 207. P. 438.

(b) The Thirteenth Amendment authorized Congress to do more than merely dissolve the legal bond by which the Negro slave was held to his master; it gave Congress the power rationally to determine what are the badges and the incidents of slavery and the authority to translate that determination into effective legislation. Pp. 439-440.

(c) Whatever else they may have encompassed, the badges and incidents of slavery that the Thirteenth Amendment empowered Congress to eliminate included restraints upon

those fundamental rights which are the essence of civil freedom, namely, the same right . . . to inherit, purchase, lease, sell and convey property, as is enjoyed by white citizens.

Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 22. Insofar as Hodges v. United States, 203 U.S. 1, suggests a contrary holding, it is overruled. Pp. 441-443.

379 F.2d 33, reversed.

Page 412

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we are called upon to determine the scope and the constitutionality of an Act of Congress, 42 U.S.C. § 1982, which provides that:

All citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.

On September 2, 1965, the petitioners filed a complaint in the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, alleging that the respondents had refused to sell them a home in the Paddock [88 S.Ct. 2189] Woods community of St. Louis County for the sole reason that petitioner Joseph Lee Jones is a Negro. Relying in part upon § 1982, the petitioners sought injunctive and other relief.1 The District Court sustained the respondents' motion to dismiss the complaint,2 and the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that § 1982 applies only to state action, and does not reach private refusals to sell.3 We granted certiorari to consider the

Page 413

questions thus presented.4 For the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals. We hold that § 1982 bars all racial discrimination, private as well as public, in the sale or rental of property, and that the statute, thus construed, is a valid exercise of the power of Congress to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment.5

I

At the outset, it is important to make clear precisely what this case does not involve. Whatever else it may be, 42 U.S.C. § 1982 is not a comprehensive open housing law. In sharp contrast to the Fair Housing Title (Title VIII) of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Pub.L. 9284, 82 Stat. 81, the statute in this case deals only with racial discrimination, and does not address itself to discrimination on grounds of religion or national origin.6 It does not deal specifically with discrimination in the provision of services or facilities in connection with the sale or rental of a dwelling.7 It does not prohibit advertising or other representations that indicate discriminatory preferences.8 It does not refer explicitly to discrimination in financing arrangements,9 or in the provision of brokerage services.10 It does not empower

Page 414

a federal administrative agency to assist aggrieved parties.11 It makes no provision for intervention by the Attorney General.12 And, although it can be enforced by injunction,13 it contains no provision expressly authorizing [88 S.Ct. 2190] a federal court to order the payment of damages.14

Page 415

Thus, although § 1982 contains none of the exemptions that Congress included in the Civil Rights Act of 1968,15 it would be a serious mistake to suppose that § 1982 in any way diminishes the significance of the law recently enacted by Congress. Indeed, the Senate Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Affairs was informed in hearings held after the Court of Appeals had rendered its decision in this case that § 1982 might well be "a presently valid federal statutory ban against discrimination by private persons in the sale or lease of real property."16 The Subcommittee was told, however, that, even if this Court should so construe § 1982, the existence of that statute would not "eliminate the need for congressional action" to spell out "responsibility on the part of the federal government to enforce the rights it protects."17 The point was made that, in light of the many difficulties

Page 416

confronted by private litigants seeking to enforce such rights on their own,

legislation is needed to establish federal machinery for enforcement of the rights guaranteed under Section 1982 of Title 42 even if the plaintiffs in Jones [88 S.Ct. 2191] v. Alfred H. Mayer Company should prevail in the United States Supreme Court.18

On April 10, 1968, Representative Kelly of New York focused the attention of the House upon the present case and its possible significance. She described the background of this litigation, recited the text of § 1982, and then added:

When the Attorney General was asked in court about the effect of the old law [1982] as compared with the pending legislation which is being considered on the House floor today, he said that the scope was somewhat different, the remedies and procedures were different, and that the new law was still quite necessary.19

Later the same day, the House passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Its enactment had no effect upon § 198220

Page 417

and no effect upon this litigation,21 but it underscored the vast differences between, on the one hand, a general statute applicable only to racial discrimination in the rental and sale of property and enforceable only by private parties acting on their own initiative, and, on the other hand, a detailed housing law, applicable to a broad range of discriminatory practices and enforceable by a complete arsenal of federal authority. Having noted these differences, we turn to a consideration of § 1982 itself.

II

This Court last had occasion to consider the scope of 42 U.S.C. § 1982 in [88 S.Ct. 2192] 1948, in Hurd v. Hodge, 334 U.S. 24. That case arose when property owners in the District of Columbia sought to enforce racially restrictive...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP