Peterson v. City of Greenville Lombard v. State of Louisiana Gober v. City of Birmingham Avent v. State of North Carolina Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham

Decision Date20 May 1963
Docket Number58,66,Nos. 71,11 and 67,s. 71
Citation83 S.Ct. 1133,373 U.S. 244,10 L.Ed.2d 323
PartiesJames Richard PETERSON et al., Petitioners, v. CITY OF GREENVILLE. Rudolph LOMBARD et al., Petitioners, v. STATE OF LOUISIANA. James GOBER et al., Petitioners, v. CITY OF BIRMINGHAM. John Thomas AVENT et al., Petitioners, v. STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA. F. L. SHUTTLESWORTH and C. Billups, Petitioners, v. CITY OF BIRMINGHAM
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Matthew J. Perry, Columbia, S.C., for petitioners.

Theodore A. Snyder, Jr., Greenville, S.C., for respondent.

Archibald Cox, Sol. Gen., for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Mr. Chief Justice WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioners were convicted in the Recorder's Court of the City of Greenville, South Carolina, for violating the trespass statute of that State. * Each was sentenced to pay a fine of $100 or in lieu thereof to serve 30 days in jail. An appeal to the Greenville County Court was dismissed, and the Supreme Court of South Carolina affirmed. 239 S.C. 298, 122 S.E.2d 826. We granted certiorari to consider the substantial federal questions presented by the record. 370 U.S. 935, 82 S.Ct. 1577, 8 L.Ed.2d 806.

The 10 petitioners are Negro boys and girls who, on August 9, 1960, entered the S. H. Kress store in Greenville and seated themselves at the lunch counter for the purpose, as they testified, of being served. When the Kress manager observed the petitioners sitting at the counter, he 'had one of (his) * * * employees call the Police Department and turn off the lights and state the lunch counter closed.' A captain of police and two other officers responded by proceeding to the store in a patrol car where they were met by other policemen and two state agents who had preceded them there. In the presence of the police and the state agents, the manager 'announced that the lunch counter was being closed and would everyone leave' the area. The petitioners, who had been sitting at the counter for five minutes, remained seated and were promptly arrested. The boys were searched, and both boys and girls were taken to police headquarters.

The manager of the store did not request the police to arrest petitioners; he asked them to leave because integrated service was 'contrary to local customs' of segregation at lunch counters and in violation of the following Greenville City ordinance requiring separation of the races in restaurants:

'It shall be unlawful for any person owning, managing or controlling any hotel, restaurant, cafe, eating house, boarding-house or similar establishment to furnish meals to white persons and colored persons in the same room, or at the same table, or at the same counter; provided, however, that meals may be served to white persons and colored persons in the same room where separate facilities are furnished. Separate facilities shall be interpreted to mean:

'(a) Separate eating utensils and separate dishes for the serving of food, all of which shall be distinctly marked by some appropriate color scheme or otherwise;

'(b) Separate tables, counters or booths;

'(c) A distance of at least thirty-five feet shall be maintained between the area where white and colored persons are served;

'(d) The area referred to in subsection (c) above shall not be vacant but shall be occupied by the usual display counters and merchandise found in a business concern of a similar nature '(e) A separate facility shall be maintained and used for the cleaning of eating utensils and dishes furnished the two races.' Code of Greenville, 1953, as amended in 1958, § 31—8.

The manager and the police conceded that the petitioners were clean, well dressed, unoffensive in conduct, and that they sat quietly at the counter which was designed to accommodate 59 persons. The manager described his establishment as a national chain store of 15 or 20 departments, selling over 10,000 items. He stated that the general public was invited to do business at the store and that the patronage of Negroes was solicited in all departments of the store other than the lunch counter.

Petitioners maintain that South Carolina has denied them rights of free speech, both because their activity was protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments and because the trespass statute did not require a showing that the Kress manager gave them notice of his authority when he asked them to leave. Petitioners also assert that they have been deprived of the equal protection of the laws secured to them against state action by the Fourteenth Amendment. We need decide only the last of the questions thus raised.

The evidence in this case establishes beyond doubt that the Kress management's decision to exclude petitioners from the lunch counter was made because they were Negroes. It cannot be disputed that under out decisions 'private conduct abridging individual rights does no violence to the Equal Protection Clause unless to some significant extent the State in any of its manifestations has been found to have become involved in it.' Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715, 722, 81 S.Ct. 856, 860, 6 L.Ed.2d 45; Turner v. City of Memphis, 369 U.S. 350, 82 S.Ct. 805, 7 L.Ed.2d 762.

It cannot be denied that here the City of Greenville, an agency of the State, has provided by its ordinance that the decision as to whether a restaurant facility is to be operated on a desegregated basis is to be reserved to it. When the State has commanded a particular result, it has saved to itself the power to determine that result and thereby 'to a significant extent' has 'become involved' in it, and, in fact, has removed that decision from the sphere of private choice. It has thus effectively determined that a person owning, managing or controlling an eating place is left with no choice of his own but must segregate his white and Negro patrons. The Kress management, in deciding to exclude Negroes, did precisely what the city law required.

Consequently these convictions cannot stand, even assuming, as respondent contends, that the manager would have acted as he did independently of the existence of the ordinance. The State will not be heard to make this contention in support of the convictions. For the convictions had the effect, which the State cannot deny, of enforcing the ordinance passed by the City of Greenville, the agency of the State. When a state agency passes a law compelling persons to discriminate against other persons because of race, and the State's criminal processes are employed in a way which enforces the discrimination mandated by that law, such a palpable violation of the Fourteenth Amendment cannot be saved by attempting to separate the mental urges of the discriminators.

Reversed.

Mr. Justice HARLAN, concurring in the result in No. 71, and dissenting in whole or in part in Nos. 58, 66, 11, and 67.

These five racial discrimination cases, and No. 68, Wright v. Georgia, 373 U.S. 284, 83 S.Ct. 1240, in which I join the opin- ion of the Court, were argued together. Four of them arise out of 'sitin' demonstrations in the South and involve convictions of Negro students1 for violations of criminal trespass laws, or similar statutes, in South Carolina (Peterson, 373 U.S. 244, 83 S.Ct. 1133), Louisiana (Lombard, 373 U.S. 267, 83 S.Ct. 1122), Alabama (Gober, 373 U.S. 374, 83 S.Ct. 1311), and North Carolina (Avent, 373 U.S. 375, 83 S.Ct. 1311) respectively. Each of these convictions rests on state court findings, which in my opinion are supported by evidence, that the several petitioners had refused to move from 'white' lunch counters situated on the premises of privately owned department stores after having been duly requested to do so by the management. The other case involves the conviction of two Negro ministers for inciting, aiding, or abetting criminal trespasses in Alabama (Shuttlesworth, 373 U.S. 262, 83 S.Ct. 1130).

In deciding these cases the Court does not question the long-established rule that the Fourteenth Amendment reaches only state action. Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 3 S.Ct. 18, 27 L.Ed. 835. And it does not suggest that such action, denying equal protection, may be found in the mere enforcement of trespass laws in relation to private business establishments from which the management, of its own free will, has chosen to exclude persons of the Negro race.2 Judicial enforcement is of course state action, but this is not the end of the inquiry. The ultimate substantive question is whether there has been '(S)tate action of a particular character' (Civil Rights Cases, supra, at 11, 3 S.Ct. at 21) whether the character of the State's involvement in an arbitrary discrimination is such that it should be held responsible for the discrimination.

This limitation on the scope of the prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment serves several vital functions in our system. Underlying the cases involving an alleged denial of equal protection by ostensibly private action is a clash of competing constitutional claims of a high order: liberty and equality. Freedom of the individual to chose his associates or his neighbors, to use and dispose of his property as he sees fit, to be irrational, arbitrary, capricious, even unjust in his personal relations are things all entitled to a large measure of protection from governmental interference. This liberty would be overridden, in the name of equality, if the strictures of the Amendment were applied to governmental and private action without distinction. Also inherent in the concept of state action are values of federalism, a recognition that there are areas of private rights upon which federal power should not lay a heavy hand and which should properly be left to the more precise instruments of local authority.

My differences with the Court relate primarily to its treatment of the state action issue and to the broad strides with which it has proceeded in setting aside the convictions in all of these...

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