Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (379 U.S. 241)

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Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964)
by the Supreme Court of the United States

Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case holding that the Commerce Clause gave the U.S. Congress power to force private businesses to abide by Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in public accommodations.

United States Supreme Court

379 U.S. 241

Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc.  v.  United States

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

No. 515.  Argued: October 5, 1964. --- Decided: December 14, 1964.

Court Documents

Appellant, the owner of a large motel in Atlanta, Georgia, which restricts its clientele to white persons, three-fourths of whom are transient interstate travelers, sued for declaratory relief and to enjoin enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, contending that the prohibition of racial discrimination in places of public accommodation affecting commerce exceeded Congress' powers under the Commerce Clause and violated other parts of the Constitution. A three-judge District Court upheld the constitutionality of Title II, §§ 201(a), (b)(1) and (c)(1), the provisions attacked, and on appellees' counterclaim permanently enjoined appellant from refusing to accommodate Negro guests for racial reasons. Held:

1. Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a valid exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause as applied to a place of public accommodation serving interstate travelers. Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, distinguished. Pp. 249–262.
(a) The interstate movement of persons is "commerce" which concerns more than one State. Pp. 255–256.
(b) The protection of interstate commerce is within the regulatory power of Congress under the Commerce Clause whether or not the transportation of persons between States is "commercial." P. 256.
(c) Congress' action in removing the disruptive effect which it found racial discrimination has on interstate travel is not invalidated because Congress was also legislating against what it considered to be moral wrongs. P. 257.
(d) Congress had power to enact appropriate legislation with regard to a place of public accommodation such as appellant's motel even if it is assumed to be of a purely "local" character, as Congress' power over interstate commerce extends to the regulation of local incidents thereof which might have a substantial and harmful effect upon that commerce. P. 258.
2. The prohibition in Title II of racial discrimination in public accommodations affecting commerce does not violate the Fifth [p242] Amendment as being a deprivation of property or liberty without due process of law. Pp. 258–261.
3. Such prohibition does not violate the Thirteenth Amendment as being "involuntary servitude." P. 261.

231 F. Supp. 393, affirmed.

Moreton Rolleston, Jr., Atlanta, Ga., for appellant.

Archibald Cox, Sol. Gen., for appellees. Moreton Rolleston, Jr., argued the cause and filed a brief for appellant.

Solicitor General Cox argued the cause for the United States et al. With him on the brief were Assistant Attorney General Marshall, Philip B. Heymann and Harold H. Greene.

Briefs of amici curiae, urging reversal, were filed by James W. Kynes, Attorney General of Florida, and Fred M. Burns and Joseph C. Jacobs, Assistant Attorneys General, for the State of Florida; and Robert Y. Button, Attorney General of Virginia, and Frederick T. Gray, Special Assistant Attorney General, for the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Briefs of amici curiae, urging affirmance, were filed by Thomas C. Lynch, Attorney General of California, Charles E. Corker and Dan Kaufmann, Assistant Attorneys General, and Charles B. McKesson and Jerold L. Perry, Deputy Attorneys General, for the State of California; Edward W. Brooke, Attorney General of Massachusetts, for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and Louis J. Lefkowitz, Attorney General of New York, Samuel A. Hirshowitz, First Assistant Attorney General, and Shirley Adelson Siegel, Assistant Attorney General, for the State of New York.

Mr. Justice Clark delivered the opinion of the Court

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).