Hamm v. City of Rock Hill/Dissent White

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Hamm v. City of Rock Hill, 379 U.S. 306 (1964)
Dissenting Opinion by Byron White
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Linked case(s):
236 Ark. 596
379 U.S. 306

Mr. Justice White, dissenting.

Absent the Civil Rights Act there was, in my view, no constitutional infirmity in the state court convictions. Bell v. Maryland, 378 U.S. 226, 318 (dissenting opinion of Mr. Justice Black). And if Congress had the power to abate these convictions I am confident it had no intent of exercising it by passing the new law. There is nothing but silence to indicate that Congress meant to void outstanding judgments of state courts. I would not, for several reasons, read so much into nothing as the Court attempts to do.

It is wrong to impute to the silence of Congress an unusual and unprecedented step which at the very least poses constitutional problems of some import. By the time the Act was passed, Bell v. Maryland, supra, had forcefully raised the whole question of the status of previous convictions after a change in the law. I cannot believe, with that case on the books, remitting the matter to the state courts as it did, Congress would have left unstated its intention to erase all state court trespass judgments then on appeal in the courts. Moreover, the common-law presumption of abatement was reversed by 1 U.S.C. § 109 (1958 ed.), which stands as the most relevant indicator of congressional intention in situations like this. Congressional silence in these circumstances [p328] seems to me to point to the conclusion exactly opposite to that reached by the Court.

Finally, had Congress intended to ratify massive disobedience to the law, so often attended by violence, I feel sure it would have said so in unmistakable language. The truth is that it is only judicial rhetoric to blame this result upon Congress. Given a discernable congressional decision, I would be happy to follow it, as it is our task to do, absent constitutional limitations. But without it we have another case. Whether persons or groups should engage in nonviolent disobedience to laws with which they disagree perhaps defies any categorial answer for the guidance of every individual in every circumstance. But whether a court should give it wholesale sanction is a wholly different question which calls for only one answer.