Palmer v. Thompson, No. 107

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACK
Citation403 U.S. 217,29 L.Ed.2d 438,91 S.Ct. 1940
Decision Date14 June 1971
Docket NumberNo. 107
PartiesHazel PALMER et al., Petitioners, v. Allen C. THOMPSON, Mayor, City of Jackson, et al

403 U.S. 217
91 S.Ct. 1940
29 L.Ed.2d 438
Hazel PALMER et al., Petitioners,

v.

Allen C. THOMPSON, Mayor, City of Jackson, et al.

No. 107.
Argued Dec. 14, 1970.
Decided June 14, 1971.

Page 218

Paul A. Rosen, Detroit, Mich., and William M. Kunstler, New York City, for petitioners.

William F. Goodman, Jr., Jackson, Miss., for respondents.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1962 the city of Jackson, Mississippi, was maintaining five public parks along with swimming pools, golf links, and other facilities for use by the public on a racially segregated basis. Four of the swimming pools were used by whites only and one by Negroes only. Plaintiffs brought an action in the United States District

Page 219

Court seeking a declaratory judgment that this state-enforced segregation of the races was a violation of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, and asking an injunction to forbid such practices. After hearings the District Court entered a judgment declaring that enforced segregation denied equal protection of the laws but it declined to issue an injunction.1 The Court of Appeals affirmed, and we denied certiorari. 2 The city proceeded to desegregate its public parks, auditoriums, golf courses, and the city zoo. However, the city council decided not to try to operate the public swimming pools on a desegregated basis. Acting in its legislative capacity, the council surrendered its lease on one pool and closed four which the city owned. A number of Negro citizens of Jackson then filed this suit to force the city to reopen the pools and operate them on a desegregated basis. The District Court found that the closing was justified to preserve peace and order and because the pools could not be operated economically on an integrated basis.3 It held the city's action did not deny black citizens equal protection of the laws. The Court of Appeals sitting en banc affirmed, six out of 13 judges dissenting.4 That court rejected the contention that since the pools had been closed either in whole or in part to avoid desegregation the city council's action was a denial of equal protection of the laws. We granted certiorari to decide that question. We affirm.

I

Petitioners rely chiefly on the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment which forbids any State to 'deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection

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of the laws.' There can be no doubt that a major purpose of this amendment was to safeguard Negroes against discriminatory state laws—state laws that fail to give Negroes protection equal to that afforded white people. History shows that the achievement of equality for Negroes was the urgent purpose not only for passage of the Fourteenth Amendment but for the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments as well. See, e.g., Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 71—72, 21 L.Ed. 394 (1873). Thus the Equal Protection Clause was principally designed to protect Negroes against discriminatory action by the States. Here there has unquestionably been 'state action' because the official local government legislature, the city council, has closed the public swimming pools of Jackson. The question, however, is whether this closing of the pools is state action that denies 'the equal protection of the laws' to Negroes. It should be noted first that neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor any Act of Congress purports to impose an affirmative duty on a State to begin to operate or to continue to operate swimming pools. Furthermore, this is not a case where whites are permitted to use public facilities while blacks are denied access. It is not a case where a city is maintaining different sets of facilities for blacks and whites and forcing the races to remain separate in recreational or educational activities.5 See, e.g., Watson v. City of Memphis, 373 U.S. 526, 83 S.Ct. 1314, 10 L.Ed.2d 529 (1963); Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954).

Unless, therefore, as petitioners urge, certain past cases require us to hold that closing the pools to all denied

Page 221

equal protection to Negroes, we must agree with the courts below and affirm.

II

Although petitioners cite a number of our previous cases, the only two which even plausibly support their argument are Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 377 U.S. 218, 84 S.Ct. 1226, 12 L.Ed.2d 256 (1964), and Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369, 87 S.Ct. 1627, 18 L.Ed.2d 830 (1967). For the reasons that follow, however, neither case leads us to reverse the judgment here.6

A. In Griffin the public schools of Prince Edward County, Virginia, were closed under authority of state and county law, and so-called 'private schools' were set up in their place to avoid a court desegregation order. At the same time, public schools in other counties in Virginia remained open. In Prince Edward County the 'private schools' were open to whites only and these schools were in fact run by a practical part-

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nership between State and county, designed to preserve segregated education. We pointed out in Griffin the many facets of state involvement in the running of the 'private schools.' The State General Assembly had made available grants of $150 per child to make the program possible. This was supplemented by a county grant program of $100 per child and county property tax credits for citizens contributing to the 'private schools.' Under those circumstances we held that the closing of public schools in just one county while the State helped finance 'private schools' was a scheme to perpetuate segregation in education which constituted a denial of equal protection of the laws. Thus the Griffin case simply treated the school program for what it was—an operation of Prince Edward County schools under a thinly disguished 'private' school system actually planned and carried out by the State and the county to maintain segregated education with public funds. That case can give no comfort to petitioners here. This record supports no intimation that Jackson has not completely and finally ceased running swimming pools for all time. Unlike Prince Edward County, Jackson has not pretended to close public pools only to run them under a 'private' label. It is true that the Leavell Woods pool, previously leased by the city from the YMCA, is now run by that organization and appears to be open only to whites. And according to oral argument, another pool owned by the city before 1963 is now owned and operated by Jackson State College, a predominantly black institution, for college students and their guests.7 But unlike the 'private schools' in Prince Edward County there is nothing here to show the city is directly or indirectly involved in the funding or operation of either pool.8 If the time ever

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comes when Jackson attempts to run segregated public pools either directly or indirectly, or participates in a subterfuge whereby pools are nominally run by 'private parties' but actually by the city, relief will be available in the federal courts.

B. Petitioners also claim that Jackson's closing of the public pools authorizes or encourages private pool owners to discriminate on account of race and that such 'encouragement' is prohibited by Reitman v. Mulkey, supra.

In Reitman, California had repealed two laws relating to racial discrimination in the sale of housing by passing a constitutional amendment establishing the right of private persons to discriminate on racial grounds in real estate transactions. This Court there accepted what it designated as the holding of the Supreme Court of California, namely that the constitutional amendment was an official authorization of racial discrimination which significantly involved the State in the discriminatory acts of private parties. 387 U.S., at 376—378, 380—381, 87 S.Ct., at 1631—1634.

In the first place there are no findings here about any state 'encouragement' of discrimination, and it is not clear that any such theory was ever considered by the District Court. The implication of petitioners' argument appears to be that the fact the city turned over to the YMCA a pool it had previously leased is sufficient to show automatically that the city has conspired with the YMCA to deprive Negroes of the opportunity to swim in integrated pools. Possibly in a case where the city and the YMCA were both parties, a court could find that the city engaged in a subterfuge, and that liability could be fastened on it as an active participant

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in a conspiracy with the YMCA. We need not speculate upon such a possibility, for there is no such finding here, and it does not appear from this record that there was evidence to support such a finding. Reitman v. Mulkey was based on a theory that the evidence was sufficient to show the State was abetting a refusal to rent apartments on racial grounds. On this record, Reitman offers no more support to petitioners than does Griffin.

III

Petitioners have also argued that respondents' action violates the Equal Protection Clause because the decision to close the pools was motivated by a desire to avoid integration of the races. But no case in this Court has held that a legislative act may violate equal protection solely because of the motivations of the men who voted for it. The pitfalls of such analysis were set forth clearly in the landmark opinion of Mr. Chief Justice Marshall in Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch 87, 130, 3 L.Ed. 162 (1810), where the Court declined to set aside the Georgia Legislature's sale of lands on the theory that its members were corruptly motivated in passing the bill.

A similar contention that illicit motivation should lead to a finding of unconstitutionality was advanced in United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 383, 88 S.Ct. 1673, 1682, 20 L.Ed.2d 672 (1968), where this Court rejected the argument that a defendant could not be punished for burning his draft card because Congress had allegedly...

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255 practice notes
  • McGlotten v. Connally, Civ. A. No. 3377-70.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 11, 1972
    ...35 See cases cited notes 32-34 supra. 36 Evans v. Abney, 396 U.S. 435, 90 S.Ct. 628, 24 L.Ed.2d 634 (1969); Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217, 91 S.Ct. 1940, 29 L.Ed.2d 438 37 There is no question that allowing the deduction of charitable contributions in fact confers a benefit on the organi......
  • United States v. Yonkers Bd. of Educ., No. 80 Civ. 6761 (LBS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 20, 1985
    ...to identify when the intent at issue is the "collective" intent of a legislative or administrative body. See, e.g., Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217, 224-25, 91 S.Ct. 1940, 1944-45, 29 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971); Hart v. Community School Board of Education, New York School District # 21, 512 F.2d 3......
  • Clark v. Valeo, No. 76-1825
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • June 6, 1977
    ...1226, 12 L.Ed.2d 256 (1964); Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339, 347, 81 S.Ct. 125, 5 L.Ed.2d 110 (1960). But see Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217, 224-225, 91 S.Ct. 1940, 29 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971). The present situation is a case in point. Why did one house of Congress not meet on the extra ......
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill, 2:15–cv–02193–LSC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 10, 2018
    ...standing alone, is not sufficient to state a claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Palmer v. Thompson , 403 U.S. 217, 224, 91 S.Ct. 1940, 29 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971) ("[N]o case in this Court has held that a legislative act may violate equal protection solely becaus......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
251 cases
  • McGlotten v. Connally, Civ. A. No. 3377-70.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 11, 1972
    ...35 See cases cited notes 32-34 supra. 36 Evans v. Abney, 396 U.S. 435, 90 S.Ct. 628, 24 L.Ed.2d 634 (1969); Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217, 91 S.Ct. 1940, 29 L.Ed.2d 438 37 There is no question that allowing the deduction of charitable contributions in fact confers a benefit on the organi......
  • United States v. Yonkers Bd. of Educ., No. 80 Civ. 6761 (LBS).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 20, 1985
    ...to identify when the intent at issue is the "collective" intent of a legislative or administrative body. See, e.g., Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217, 224-25, 91 S.Ct. 1940, 1944-45, 29 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971); Hart v. Community School Board of Education, New York School District # 21, 512 F.2d 3......
  • Clark v. Valeo, No. 76-1825
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
    • June 6, 1977
    ...1226, 12 L.Ed.2d 256 (1964); Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339, 347, 81 S.Ct. 125, 5 L.Ed.2d 110 (1960). But see Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217, 224-225, 91 S.Ct. 1940, 29 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971). The present situation is a case in point. Why did one house of Congress not meet on the extra ......
  • Greater Birmingham Ministries v. Merrill, 2:15–cv–02193–LSC
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 10, 2018
    ...standing alone, is not sufficient to state a claim under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Palmer v. Thompson , 403 U.S. 217, 224, 91 S.Ct. 1940, 29 L.Ed.2d 438 (1971) ("[N]o case in this Court has held that a legislative act may violate equal protection solely becaus......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 books & journal articles
  • List of Cases Referenced
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 28-1, March 1975
    • March 1, 1975
    ...U.S. 488 (1974)Old Dominion Branch No. 496, National Association of Letter Carriers v. Austin, 94 S.Ct. 2770 (1974) Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217 ( 1971 )Paris Adult Theatre v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49 (1973)Pell v. Procunier, 94 S.Ct. 2800 (1974)Pernell v. Southall Realty, 94 S.Ct. 1723 (197......
  • Women's Rights and the Limits of Constitutional Doctrine
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 44-4, December 1991
    • December 1, 1991
    ...v. Ohio. 1990. No. 88-5986. Orr v. Orr. 1979. 440 U.S. 268. Orr v. Orr. Ala. Civ. App. 1979. 374 So. 2d 895. Palmer v. Thompson. 1971. 403 U.S. 217.Parham v. Hughes. 1979. 441 U.S. 347.Paris Adult Theater I v. Slaton. 1973. 413 U. S. Patterson v. McLean Credit Union. 1989. 109 S. Ct. 2363........
  • Reconstruction Sentencing: Reimagining Drug Sentencing in the Aftermath of the War on Drugs
    • United States
    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-4, October 2021
    • October 1, 2021
    ...reform show the promise that the Amendment still holds. As discussed below, the Thirteenth Amendment can be a protection against the 108. 403 U.S. 217, 219 (1971). 109. Id. at 226. 110. 451 U.S. 100 (1981). 111. Id. at 103, 107–10, 138. 112. Id. at 126. 113. Id. at 119, 128. 114. See, e.g.,......
  • The Supreme Court of the United States, 1970-1971
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 24-4, December 1971
    • December 1, 1971
    ...and split zoning. &dquo;The measure of any desegre- gation plan is its effectiveness.&dquo; (P. 37.) In Palmer v. T hom pson (403 U.S. 217 ; 91 S. Ct. 1940) a group of citizens of Jackson, Mississippi, filed suit to force the city to reopen the public swimming pools and to operate them on a......

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