McLaughlin v. Florida/Concurrence Stewart

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McLaughlin v. Florida
Concurrence Stewart by Potter Stewart
Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinions

Mr. Justice Stewart, with whom Mr. Justice Douglas joins, concurring.

I concur in the judgment and agree with most of what is said in the Court's opinion. But the Court implies that a criminal law of the kind here involved might be constitutionally valid if a State could show "some overriding statutory purpose." This is an implication in which I cannot join, because I cannot conceive of a valid legislative purpose under our Constitution for a state law which makes the color of a person's skin the test of whether his conduct is a criminal offense. These appellants were convicted, fined, and imprisoned under a statute which made their conduct criminal only because they were of different races. So far as this statute goes, their conduct would not have been illegal had they both been white, or both Negroes. There might be limited room under the Equal Protection Clause for a civil law requiring the keeping of racially segregated public records for statistical or other valid public purposes. Cf. Tancil v. Woolls, ante, at 19. But we deal here with a criminal law which imposes criminal punishment. And I think it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor. Discrimination of that kind is invidious per se. [1]


  1. . Since I think this criminal law is clearly invalid under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, I do not consider the impact of the Due Process Clause of that Amendment, nor of the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.