United States v. Guest

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation86 S.Ct. 1170,16 L.Ed.2d 239,383 U.S. 745
Docket NumberNo. 65,65
PartiesUNITED STATES, Appellant, v. Herbert GUEST et al
Decision Date28 March 1966

Sol. Gen. Thurgood Marshall, for appellant.

Charles J. Bloch, Macon, Ga., for appellee James Spergeon Lackey.

James E. Hudson, Athens, Ga., for other appellees.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The six defendants in this case were indicted by a United States grand jury in the Middle District of Georgia for criminal conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 241 (1964 ed.). That section provides in relevant part:

'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;

'They shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.'

In five numbered paragraphs, the indictment alleged a single conspiracy by the defendants to deprive Negro citizens of the free exercise and enjoyment of several specified rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States.1 The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment on the ground that it did not charge an offense under the laws of the United States. The District Court sustained the motion and dismissed the indictment as to all defendants and all numbered paragraphs of the indictment. 246 F.Supp. 475.

The United States appealed directly to this Court under the Criminal Appeals Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3731.2 We postponed decision of the question of our jurisdiction to the hearing on the merits. 381 U.S. 932, 85 S.Ct. 1765. It is now apparent that this Court does not have jurisdiction to decide one of the issues sought to be raised on this direct appeal. As to the other issues, however, our appellate jurisdiction is clear, and for the reasons that follow, we reverse the judgment of the District Court. As in United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 86 S.Ct. 1152, decided today, we deal here with issues of statutory construction, not with issues of constitutional power.

I.

The first numbered paragraph of the indictment, reflecting a portion of the language of § 201(a) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a(a) (1964 ed.), alleged that the defendants conspired to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate Negro citizens in the free exercise and enjoyment of:

'The right to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of motion picture theaters, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation.'3 The District Court held that this paragraph of the indictment failed to state an offense against rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. The court found a fatal flaw in the failure of the paragraph to include an allegation that the acts of the defendants were motivated by racial discrimination, an allegation the court thought essential to charge an interference with rights secured by Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 4 The court went on to say that, in any event, 18 U.S.C. § 241 is not an available sanction to protect rights secured by that title because § 207(b) of the 1964 Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000a—6(b) (1964 ed.), specifies that the remedies provided in Title II itself are to be the exclusive means of enforcing the rights the title secures.5

A direct appeal to this Court is available to the United States under the Criminal Appeals Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3731, from 'a decision or judgment * * * dismissing any indictment * * * or any count thereof, where such decision or judgment is based upon the * * * construction of the statute upon which the indictment * * * is founded.' In the present case, however, the District Court's judgment as to the first paragraph of the indictment was based, at least alternatively, upon its determination that this paragraph was defective as a matter of pleading. Settled principles of review under the Criminal Appeals Act therefore preclude our review of the District Court's judgment on this branch of the indictment. In United States v. Borden Co., 308 U.S. 188, 60 S.Ct. 182, 84 L.Ed. 181, Chief Justice Hughes, speaking for a unanimous Court, set out these principles with characteristic clarity:

'The established principles governing our review are these: (1) Appeal does not lie from a judgment which rests on the mere deficiencies of the indict- ment as a pleading, as distinguished from a construction of the statute which underlies the indictment. (2) Nor will an appeal lie in a case where the District Court has considered the construction of the statute but has also rested its decision upon the independent ground of a defect in pleading which is not subject to our examination. In that case we cannot disturb the judgment and the question of construction becomes abstract. (3) This Court must accept the construction given to the indictment by the District Court as that is a matter we are not authorized to review. * * *' 308 U.S. at 193, 60 S.Ct. at 186.

See also United States v. Swift & Co., 318 U.S. 442, 444, 63 S.Ct. 684, 685, 87 L.Ed. 889.

The result is not changed by the circumstance that we have jurisdiction over this appeal as to the other paragraphs of the indictment. United States v. Borden, supra, involved an indictment comparable to the present one for the purposes of jurisdiction under the Criminal Appeals Act. In Borden, the District Court had held all four counts of the indictment invalid as a matter of construction of the Sherman Act, but had also held the third count defective as a matter of pleading. The Court accepted jurisdiction on direct appeal as to the first, second, and fourth counts of the indictment, but it dismissed the appeal as to the third count for want of jurisdiction. 'The Government's appeal does not open the whole case.' 308 U.S. 188, 193, 60 S.Ct. 182, 186.

It is hardly necessary to add that our ruling as to the Court's lack of jurisdiction now to review this aspect of the case implies no opinion whatsoever as to the correctness either of the District Court's appraisal of this paragraph of the indictment as a matter of pleading or of the court's view of the preclusive effect of § 207(b) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

II.

The second numbered paragraph of the indictment alleged that the defendants conspired to injure, oppress, threaten, and intimidate Negro citizens of the United States in the free exercise and enjoyment of:

'The right to the equal utilization, without discrimination upon the basis of race, of public facilities in the vicinity of Athens, Georgia, owned, operated or managed by or on behalf of the State of Georgia or any subdivision thereof.'

Correctly characterizing this paragraph as embracing rights protected by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the District Court held as a matter of statutory construction that 18 U.S.C. § 241 does not encompass any Fourteenth Amendment rights, and further held as a matter of constitutional law that 'any broader construction of § 241 * * * would render it void for indefiniteness.' 246 F.Supp., at 486. In so holding, the District Court was in error, as our opinion in United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787, 86 S.Ct. 1152, decided today, makes abundantly clear.

To be sure, Price involves rights under the Due Process Clause, whereas the present case involves rights under the Equal Protection Clause. But no possible reason suggests itself for concluding that § 241—if it protects Fourteenth Amendment rights protects rights secured by the one Clause but not those secured by the other. We have made clear in Price that when § 241 speaks of 'any right or privilege secured * * * by the Constitution or laws of the United States,' it means precisely that.

Moreover, inclusion of Fourteenth Amendment rights within the compass of 18 U.S.C. § 241 does not render the statute unconstitutionally vague. Since the gravamen of the offense is conspiracy, the requirement that the offender must act with a specific intent to inter- fere with the federal rights in question is satisfied. Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 65 S.Ct. 1031, 89 L.Ed. 1495; United States v. Williams, 341 U.S. 70, 93—95, 71 S.Ct. 581, 593—595, 95 L.Ed. 758 (dissenting opinion). And the rights under the Equal Protection Clause described by this paragraph of the indictment have been so firmly and precisely established by a consistent line of decisions in this Court,6 that the lack of specification of these rights in the language of § 241 itself can raise no serious constitutional question on the ground of vagueness or indefiniteness.

Unlike the indictment in Price, however, the indictment in the present case names no person alleged to have acted in any way under the color of state law. The argument is therefore made that, since there exist no Equal Protection Clause rights against wholly private action, the judgment of the District Court on this branch of the case must be affirmed. On its face, the argument is unexceptionable. The Equal Protection Clause speaks to the State or to those acting under the color of its authority.7

In this connection, we emphasize that § 241 by its clear language incorporates no more than the Equal Protection Clause itself; the statute does not purport to give substantive, as opposed to remedial, implementation to any rights secured by that Clause.8 Since we therefore deal here only with the bare terms of the Equal Protection Clause itself, nothing said in this opinion goes to the question of what kinds of other and broader legislation Congress might constitutionally enact under § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to implement that Clause or any other provision of the Amendment.9

It is a commonplace that rights under the Equal Protection Clause itself arise only where there has been involvement of the State or of one acting under the color of its authority. The...

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