427 U.S. 160 (1976), 75-62, Runyon v. McCrary

Docket Nº:No. 75-62
Citation:427 U.S. 160, 96 S.Ct. 2586, 49 L.Ed.2d 415
Party Name:Runyon v. McCrary
Case Date:June 25, 1976
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 160

427 U.S. 160 (1976)

96 S.Ct. 2586, 49 L.Ed.2d 415




No. 75-62

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1976

Argued April 26, 1976




Title 42 U.S.C. § 1981 provides in part that

[a]ll persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State . . . to make and enforce contracts . . . as is enjoyed by white citizens. . . .

After they had been denied admission to petitioner private schools in Virginia for the stated reason that the schools were not integrated, two Negro children (hereafter respondents), by their parents, brought actions against the schools, alleging that they had been prevented from attending the schools because of the schools' admitted policies of denying admission to Negroes, in violation of § 1981, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief and damages. The District Court, finding that respondents had been denied admission on racial grounds, held that § 1981 makes illegal the schools' racially discriminatory admissions policies, and accordingly enjoined the schools and the member schools of petitioner private school association (which had intervened as a party defendant) from discriminating against applicants for admission on the basis of race. The court also awarded compensatory relief to both children and to the parents of one, and assessed attorneys' fees against each school, but held that the damages claim of the parents of the other child was barred by Virginia's two-year statute of limitations for "personal injury" actions, "borrowed" for § 1981 suits filed in that State. The Court of Appeals, while reversing the award of attorneys' fees, affirmed the grant of equitable and compensatory relief and the ruling as to the applicable statute of limitations, holding that § 1981 is a

limitation upon private discrimination, and its enforcement in the context of this case is not a deprivation of any right of free association or of privacy of the

Page 161

defendants; of the intervenor, or of their pupils or patrons.


1. Section 1981 prohibits private, commercially operated, nonsectarian schools from denying admission to prospective students because they are Negroes. Pp. 168-175.

[96 S.Ct. 2590] (a) Section 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, from which § 1981 is derived, prohibits racial discrimination in the making and enforcing of private contracts. See Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, 421 U.S. 454, 459-460; Tillman v. Wheaton-Haven Recreation Assn., 410 U.S. 431, 439-440. Cf. Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409, 441-443, n. 78. Pp. 168-172.

(b) The racial discrimination practiced by petitioner schools amounts to a classic violation of § 1981: Respondents' parents sought to enter into a contractual relationship with petitioner schools, but neither school offered services on an equal basis to white and nonwhite students. Pp. 172-173.

2. Section 1981, as applied in this case, does not violate constitutionally protected rights of free association and privacy, or a parent's right to direct the education of his children. Pp. 175-179.

(a) While, under the principle that there is a First Amendment right "to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas," NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, 460, it may be assumed that parents have a right to send their children to schools that promote the belief that racial segregation is desirable, and that the children have a right to attend such schools, it does not follow that the practice of excluding racial minorities from such schools is also protected by the same principle. The Constitution places no value on discrimination, and while

[i]nvidious private discrimination may be characterized as a form of exercising freedom of association protected by the First Amendment . . . , it has never been accorded affirmative constitutional protections.

Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455, 470. Pp. 175-176.

(b) The application of § 1981 in this case infringed no parental right such as was recognized in Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390; Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510; Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205; or Norwood v. Harrison, supra, since no challenge is made to petitioner schools' right to operate, to parents' right to send their children to a particular private school rather than a public school, or to the subject matter that is taught at any private school. Pp. 176-177.

(c) While parents have a constitutional right to send their

Page 162

children to private schools and to select private schools that offer specialized instruction, they have no constitutional right to provide their children with private school education unfettered by reasonable government regulation. Section 1981, as applied to the conduct at issue here, constitutes an exercise of federal legislative power under § 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment "to enforce [that Amendment] by appropriate legislation," fully consistent with Meyer v. Nebraska, supra; Pierce v. Society of Sisters, supra, and the cases that followed in their wake, such power including "the power to enact laws `direct and primary, operating upon the acts of individuals, whether sanctioned by State legislation or not.'" Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., supra, at 438. Pp. 177-179.

3. Absent a federal statute of limitations for §1981 actions or a Virginia statute of limitations specifically governing civil rights actions, the Court of Appeals applied the appropriate statute of limitations to bar the damages claim in question, particularly where it appears that the Court of Appeals, as well as the Federal District Courts in Virginia, had considered the question in previous federal civil rights litigation, and that the phrase "personal injuries" in the Virginia two-year statute of limitations can reasonably be construed to apply to the sort of injuries claimed here and not only to "physical injuries" as one respondent's parents contend. Pp. 179-182.

[96 S.Ct. 2591] 4. Absent any federal statute expressly providing for attorneys' fees in § 1981 cases or any bad faith on petitioner schools' part in contesting the actions, the Court of Appeals properly reversed the award of such fees. Nor is implied authority for such an award furnished by the generalized command of 42 U.S.C. §1988 "to furnish suitable remedies" to vindicate the rights conferred by the various Civil Rights Acts. Pp. 182-186.

515 F.2d 1082, affirmed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C. J., and BRENNAN, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., post, p. 186, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 189, filed concurring opinions. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 192

Page 163

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal issue presented by these consolidated cases is whether a federal law, namely 42 U.S.C. § 1981, prohibits private schools from excluding qualified children solely because they are Negroes.


The respondents in No. 762, Michael McCrary and Colin Gonzales, are Negro children. By their parents,

Page 164

they filed a class action against the petitioners in No. 75-62, Russell and Katheryne Runyon, who are the proprietors of Bobbe's School in Arlington, Va. Their complaint alleged that they had been prevented from attending the school because of the petitioners' policy of denying admission to Negroes, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 19811 and Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 78 Stat. 243, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a et seq.2 They sought declaratory and injunctive relief and damages. On the same day, Colin Gonzales, the respondent in No. 75-66, filed a similar complaint by his parents against the petitioner in No. 75-66, Fairfax-Brewster School, Inc., located in Fairfax County, Va. The petitioner in No. 75-278, the Southern Independent School Association, sought and was granted permission to intervene as a party defendant in the suit against the Runyons. That organization is a nonprofit association composed of six state private school associations, and represents 395 private schools. It is stipulated that many of these schools deny admission to Negroes.

The suits were consolidated for trial. The findings of the District Court, which were left undisturbed by the Court of Appeals, were as follows. Bobbe's School opened in 1958 and grew from an initial enrollment of five students to 200 in 1972. A day camp was begun in 1967, and has averaged 100 children per year. The Fairfax-Brewster School commenced operations in 1955, and opened a summer day camp in 1956. A total of

Page 165

223 students were enrolled at the school during the 1972-1973 academic year, and 236 attended the day camp in the summer of 1972. Neither school has ever accepted a Negro child for any of its programs.

In response to a mailed brochure addressed "resident" and an advertisement in the "Yellow Pages" of the telephone directory, [96 S.Ct. 2592] Mr. and Mrs. Gonzales telephoned and then visited the Fairfax-Brewster School in May, 1969. After the visit, they submitted an application for Colin's admission to the day camp. The school responded with a form letter, which stated that the school was "unable to accommodate [Colin's] application." Mr. Gonzales telephoned the school. Fairfax-Brewster's Chairman of the Board explained that the reason for Colin's rejection was that the school was not integrated. Mr. Gonzales then telephoned Bobbe's School, from which the family had also received in the mail a brochure addressed to "resident." In response to a question concerning that school's admissions policies, he was told that only members of the Caucasian...

To continue reading