Reuben Hodges v. United States

Decision Date19 October 1905
Docket NumberNo. 14,14
Citation203 U.S. 1,51 L.Ed. 65,27 S.Ct. 6
PartiesREUBEN HODGES, William R. Clampit, and Wash McKinney, Plffs. in Err., v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

On October 8, 1903, the grand jury returned into the district court of the United States for the eastern district of Arkansas an indictment charging that the defendants (now plaintiffs in error), with others, 'did knowingly, wilfully, and unlawfully conspire to oppress, threaten, and intimidate Berry Winn, Dave Hinton, Percy Legg, Joe Mardis, Joe McGill, Dan Shelton, jim Hall, and George Shelton, citizens of the United States of African descent, in the free exercise and enjoyment of rights and privileges secured to them and each of them by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and because of their having exercised the same, to wit: The said Berry Winn, Dave Hinton, Percy Legg, Joe Mardis, Joe McGill, Dan Shelton, Jim Hall, and George Shelton, being then and there persons of African descent and citizens of the United States and of the state of Arkansas, had then and there made and entered into contracts and agreements with James A. Davis and James S. Hodges, persons then and there doing business under the name of Davis & Hodges as copartners, carrying on the business of manufacturers of lumber at White Hall, in said county, the said contracts being for the employment by said firm of the said Berry Winn, Dave Hinton, Percy Legg, Joe Mardis, Joe McGill, Dan Shelton, Jim Hall, and George Shelton as laborers and workmen in and about their said manufacturing establishment, by which contracts the said Berry Winn, Dave Hinton, Percy Legg, Joe Mardis, Joe McGill, Dan Shelton, Jim Hall, and George Shelton were, on their part, to perform labor and services at said manufactory, and were to receive, on the other hand, for their labor and services, compensation, the same being a right and privilege conferred upon them by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the laws passed in pursuance thereof, and being a right similar to that enjoyed in said state by the white citizens thereof, and while the said Berry Winn, Dave Hinton, Percy Legg, Joe Mardis, Joe McGill, Dan Shelton, Jim Hall, and George Shelton were in the enjoyment of said right and privilege the said defendants did knowingly, wilfully, and unlawfully conspire as aforesaid to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate them in the free exercise and enjoyment of said right and privilege, and because of their having so exercised the same, and because they were citizens of African descent, enjoying said right, by then and there notifying the said Berry Winn, Dave Hinton, Percy Legg, Joe Mardis, Joe McGill, Dan Shelton, Jim Hall, and George Shelton that they must abandon said contracts and their said work at said mill and cease to perform any further labor thereat, or receive any further compensation for said labor, and by threatening, in case they did not so abandon said work, to injure them, and by thereafter then and there wilfully and unlawfully marching and moving in a body to and against the place of business of the said firm while the said Berry Winn, Dave Hinton, Percy Legg, Joe Mardis, Joe McGill, Dan Shelton, Jim Hall, and George Shelton were engaged thereat, and while they were in the performance of said contracts thereon, the said defendants being then and there armed with deadly weapons, threatening and intimidating the said workmen there employed, with the purpose of compelling them, by violence and threats and otherwise, to remove from said place of business, to stop said work, and to cease the enjoyment of said right and privilege, and by then and there wilfully, deliberately, and unlawfully compelling said Berry Winn, Dave Hinton, Percy Legg, Joe Mardis, Joe McGill, Dan Shelton, Jim Hall, and George Shelton to quit said work and abandon said place and cease the free enjoyment of all advantages under said contracts, the same being so done by said defendants and each of them for the purpose of driving the said Berry Winn, Dave Hinton, Percy Legg, Joe Mardis, Joe McGill, Dan Shelton, Jim Hall, and George Shelton from said place of business and from their labor because they were colored men and citizens of African descent, contrary to the form of the statute in such case made and provided, and against the peace and dignity of the United States.'

A demurrer to this indictment, on the ground that the offense created by §§ 1977 and 5508, Rev. Stat. (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, pp. 1259, 3712), under which it was found, was not within the jurisdiction of the courts of the United States, but was judicially cognizable by state tribunals only, was overruled, a trial had, and the three plaintiffs in error found guilty, sentenced separately to imprisonment for different terms and to fine, and to be thereafter ineligible to any office of profit or trust created by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Sections 1977, 1978, 1979, 5508, and 5510 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, pp. 1259-1262, 3712, 3713) read as follows:

'Sec. 1977. All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every state and territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other.

'Sec. 1978. 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.

'Sec. 1979. Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any state or territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proseeding for redress.'

'Sec. 5508. If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; or if two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured,—they shall be fined not more than five thousand dollars and imprisoned not more than ten years; and shall, moreover, be thereafter ineligible to any office or place of honor, profit or trust created by the Constitution or laws of the United States.'

'Sec. 5510. Every person who, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any inhabitant of any state or territory to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities, secured or protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such inhabitant being an alien, or by reason of his color or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, or by imprisonment not more than one year, or by both.'

There being constitutional questions involved, the judgment was brought directly to this court on writ of error.

James P. Clarke, L. C. Going, and J. F. Gautney for plaintiffs in error.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 5-9 intentionally omitted] Attorney General Moody, Assistant Attorney General Purdy, and Mr. Otis J. Carlton, for defendant in error.

[Argument of Counsel from Pages 9-14 intentionally omitted] Mr. Justice Brewer delivered the opinion of the court:

While the indictment was founded on §§ 1977 and 5508, we have quoted other sections to show the scope of the legislation of Congress on the general question involved.

That prior to the three post bellum amendments to the Constitution the national government had no jurisdiction over a wrong like that charged in this indictment is conceded; that the 14th and 15th Amendments do not justify the legislation is also beyond dispute, for they, as repeatedly held, are restrictions upon state action, and no action on the part of the state is complained of. Unless, therefore, the 13th Amendment vests in the nation the jurisdiction claimed, the remedy must be sought through state action and in state tribunals, subject to the supervision of this court by writ of error in proper cases.

In the Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 76, 21 L. ed. 394, 408, in defining the privileges and immunities of citizens of the several states, this is quoted from the opinion of Mr. Justice Washington in Corfield v. Coryell, 4 Wash. C. C. 371, Fed. Cas. No. 3230:

"The inquiry,' he says, 'is, What are the privileges and immunities of citizens of the several states? We feel no hesitation in confining these expressions to those privileges and immunities which are fundamental; which belong of right to the citizens of all free governments, and which have at all times been enjoyed by citizens of the several states which compose this Union, from the time of their becoming free, independent, and sovereign. What these fundamental principles are, it would be more tedious than difficult to enumerate. They may all, however, be comprehended under the following general heads: protection by the government, with the right to acquire and possess property of every kind, and to pursue and obtain happiness and safety, subject, nevertheless, to such restraints as the government may prescribe for the general good of the whole."

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