Jones v. Alfred Mayer Co, 645

Decision Date17 June 1968
Docket NumberNo. 645,645
Citation88 S.Ct. 2186,392 U.S. 409,20 L.Ed.2d 1189
PartiesJoseph Lee JONES et ux., Petitioners, v. ALFRED H. MAYER CO. et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 409-410 intentionally omitted] Samuel H. Liberman, St. Louis, Mo., for petitioners.

Israel Treiman, St. Louis, Mo., for respondents.

Atty. Gen. Ramsey Clark for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we are called upon to determine the scope and 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 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 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


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. 90—284, 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 arrangements9 or in the provision of brokerage services.10 It does not empower 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 a federal court to order the payment of damages.14 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 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 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 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.


This Court last had occasion to consider the scope of 42 U.S.C. § 1982 in 1948, in Hurd v. Hodge, 334 U.S. 24, 68 S.Ct. 847, 92 L.Ed. 1187. That case arose when property owners in the District of Columbia sought to enforce racially restrictive covenants against the Negro purchasers of several homes on their block. A federal district court enforced the restrictive agreements by declaring void the deeds of the Negro purchasers. It enjoined further attempts to sell or lease them the properties in question and directed them to 'remove themselves and all of their personal belongings' from the premises within 60 days. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed. 22 and this Court granted certiorari23 to decide whether § 1982, then § 1978 of the Revised Statutes of 1874, barred enforcement of the racially restrictive agreements in that case.

The agreements in Hurd covered only two-thirds of the lots of a single city block, and preventing Negroes from buying or renting homes in that specific area would not have rendered them ineligible to do so elsewhere in the city. Thus, if § 1982 had been thought to do no more than grant Negro citizens the legal capacity to buy and rent property free of prohibitions that wholly disabled them because of their race, judicial enforcement of the restrictive covenants at issue would not have violated § 1982. But this Court took a broader view of the statute. Although the covenants could have been enforced without denying the general right of Negroes to purchase or lease real estate, the enforcement of those covenants would nonetheless have denied the Negro purchasers 'the same right 'as is enjoyed by white citizens * * * to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property." 334 U.S., at 34, 68 S.Ct., at 852. That result, this Court concluded, was prohibited by s 1982. To suggest otherwise, the Court said, 'is to reject the plain meaning of language.' Ibid.

Hurd v. Hodge, supra, squarely held, therefore, that a Negro citizen who is denied the opportunity to purchase the home he wants '(s)olely because of (his) race and color,' 334 U.S., at 34, 68 S.Ct., at 852, has suffered the kind of injury that § 1982 was designed to prevent. Accord, Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60, 79, 38 S.Ct. 16, 19, 62 L.Ed. 149; Harmon v. Tyler, 273 U.S. 668, 47 S.Ct. 471, 71 L.Ed. 831; City of Richmond v. Deans, 281 U.S. 704, 50 S.Ct. 407, 74 L.Ed. 1128. The basic source of the injury in Hurd was, of course, the action of private individuals—white citizens who had agreed to exclude Negroes from a residential area. But an arm of the Government—in that case, a federal court had assisted in the enforcement of that agreement.24 Thus Hurd v. Hodge, supra, did not present the question whether purely private discrimination, unaided by any action on the part of government, would violate § 1982 if its effect were to deny a citizen the right to rent or buy property solely because of his race or color.

The only federal court (other than the Court of Appeals in this case) that has ever squarely confronted that question held that a wholly private conspiracy among white citizens to prevent a Negro from leasing a farm violated § 1982. United States v. Morris, D.C., 125 F. 322. It is true that a dictum in Hurd said that § 1982 was directed only toward 'governmental action,' 334 U.S., at 31, 68 S.Ct., at 851, but neither Hurd nor any other case before or since has presented that precise issue for adjudication in this Court.25 Today we face that issue for the first time.

It is true that a dictum in Hurd v. Hodge, 334 U.S. 24, 31, 68 S.Ct. 847, 851, charracterized Corrigan v. Buckley, 271 U.S. 323, 46 S.Ct. 521, 70 L.Ed. 969, as having 'held' that '(t)he action toaward which the provisions of the statute * * * (are) directed is governmental action.' 334 U.S., at 31, 68 S.Ct., at 851. But no such statement appears in the Corrigan opinion, and a careful examination of Corrigan reveals that it cannot be read as authority for the proposition attributed to it in Hurd. In Corrigan, suits had been brought to enjoin a threatened violation of certain restrictive covenants in the District of Columbia. The courts of the District had granted relief, see 55 App.D.C. 30, 299 F. 899, and the case reached this Court on appeal. As the opinion in Corrigan specifically recognized, no claim that the covenants could not validly be enforced against the appellants had been raised in the lower courts, and no such claim was properly before this Court. 271 U.S., at 330—331, 46 S.Ct., at 523—524. The only question presented for decision was whether the restrictive covenants...

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