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World War II brought African Americans closer to the mainstream of American life than ever before. Many moved out of the South to take jobs in defense industries. Others served in the still segregated military (see photo on page 141). (President Truman integrated the military in 1948.) Still, they were not fully part of American life (Document B). In the 1950s, African Americans and their allies organized a movement to gain full civil rights, to realize a dream too long deferred, as Langston Hughes put it (Document A). Boycotts of white businesses, public transportation, and marches gave impetus to the movement. Reputedly one of the most segregated cities in the United States, Birmingham, Alabama became, in 1963, a center of protest and action against discrimination and the denial of civil rights (Document B). Faced with continuing discrimination and rising protests, President John F. Kennedy decided to support a new civil rights law (Document C). (Congress had passed a series of such laws during the decade following the Civil War.) On June 11, 1963, after consulting with Congressional leaders, Kennedy addressed the American people to explain why the new law was necessary. Eight days later he sent the bill to Congress.
Opponents objected to various provisions, including equal access to public accommodations, but also to what they felt was its unconstitutional extension of federal power (Document D). Supporters organized a March on Washington in August 1963, at which Martin Luther King gave his now famous “I Have a Dream Speech” (see the online collection of King’s papers, https://goo.gl/FqJyqq). Stressing non-violent civil disobedience, King had become the leader of the Civil Rights movement. Opposition in Congress was sufficient, however, to prevent passage of the law. When Lyndon Johnson became president following Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, he pushed for the new law, in part as a memorial to Kennedy. The law was passed July 2, 1964.
A motel in Atlanta, Georgia challenged the constitutionality of the public accommodation portion of the bill. The case reached the Supreme Court, which decided in December 1964 that the provision was a constitutional exercise of the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce (Document D). Attorneys General from Florida and Virginia had filed briefs urging that the lower court decision affirming the law be reversed, while attorneys general from California, Massachusetts and New York had filed briefs urging that it be upheld.
Documents in this chapter are available separately by following the hyperlinks below:
A. Langston Hughes, “Harlem,” 1951
B. F. L. Shuttlesworth, N. H. Smith, Birmingham Manifesto, April 3, 1963
C. President John F. Kennedy, Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963
D. Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) and Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC), Debate on the Civil Rights Act, March 18, 1964
E. Associate Justice Tom C. Clark, Atlanta Motel v. United States, December 14, 1964
A. What are the arguments of Senators Hubert Humphrey and Strom Thurmond for and against the Civil Rights Act? Are they making the same kinds of arguments? Proponents of civil rights like Martin Luther King and Fred L. Shuttlesworth appealed to the Declaration of Independence, as well as the Constitution; Thurmond appealed soley to the Constitution and the rights it protects. Is there a conflict between the Declaration and the Constitution? How did the Supreme Court respond to those like Senator Thurmond who claimed that the Civil Rights Act violated the Fifth Amendment?
B. What is the connection between the Declaration of Independence and the rights claims made by workingmen, women, and African-Americans? Could those claims be made without the Declaration? (See Chapters 18 and 27.)
C. Consider the issues raised by the texts here in light of the discussion of the pernicious institution of slavery in Volume 1, Chapters 12 and 15; how have attitudes from the earlier time period remained in force? How have they changed?
A. “Harlem,” Langston Hughes, 1951
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
B. F. L. Shuttlesworth, N. H. Smith, Birmingham Manifesto, April 3, 1963
The patience of an oppressed people cannot endure forever. The Negro citizens of Birmingham for the last several years have hoped in vain for some evidence of good faith resolution of our just grievances.
Birmingham is part of the United States and we are bona fide citizens. Yet the history of Birmingham reveals that very little of the democratic process touches the life of the Negro in Birmingham. We have been segregated racially, exploited economically, and dominated politically. Under the leadership of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, we sought relief by petition for the repeal of city ordinances requiring segregation and the institution of a merit hiring policy in city employment. We were rebuffed. We then turned to the system of the courts. We weathered set-back after set-back, with all of its costliness, finally winning the terminal, bus, parks and airport cases. The bus decision has been implemented begrudgingly and the parks decision prompted the closing of all municipally-owned recreational facilities with the exception of the zoo and Legion Field. The airport case has been a slightly better experience with the experience of hotel accommodations and the subtle discrimination that continues in the limousine service.
We have always been a peaceful people, bearing our oppression with super-human effort. Yet we have been the victims of repeated violence, not only that inflicted by the hoodlum element but also that inflicted by the blatant misuse of police power. Our memories are seared with painful mob experience of Mother’s Day 1961 during the Freedom Rides. For years, while our homes and churches were being bombed, we heard nothing but the rantings and ravings of racist city officials.
The Negro protest for equality and justice has been a voice crying in the wilderness. Most of Birmingham has remained silent, probably out of fear. In the meanwhile, our city has acquired the dubious reputation of being the worst big city in race relations in the United States. Last fall, for a flickering moment, it appeared that sincere community leaders from religion, business and industry discerned the inevitable confrontation in race relations approaching. Their concern for the city’s image and commonweal of all its citizens did not run deep enough. Solemn promises were made, pending a postponement of direct action, that we would be joined in a suit seeking the relief of segregation ordinances. Some merchants agreed to desegregate their restrooms as a good-faith start, some actually complying, only to retreat shortly thereafter. We hold in our hands now, broken faith and broken promises.
We believe in the American Dream of democracy, in the Jeffersonian doctrine that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Twice since September we have deferred our direct action thrust in order that a change in city government would not be made in the hysteria of community crisis. We act today in full concert with our Hebraic-Christian tradition, the law of morality and the Constitution of our nation. The absence of justice and progress in Birmingham demands that we make a moral witness to give our community a chance to survive. We demonstrate our faith that we believe that The Beloved Community can come to Birmingham.
We appeal to the citizenry of Birmingham, Negro and white, to join us in this witness for decency, morality, self-respect and human dignity. Your individual and corporate support can hasten the day of “liberty and justice for all.” This is Birmingham’s moment of truth in which every citizen can play his part in her larger destiny.
— The Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, in behalf of the Negro community of Birmingham.
F. L. Shuttlesworth, President
N. H. Smith, Secretary
C. President John F. Kennedy, Radio and Television Report to the American People on Civil Rights, June 11, 1963
Good evening, my fellow citizens:
This afternoon, following a series of threats and defiant statements, the presence of Alabama National Guardsmen was required on the University of Alabama to carry out the final and unequivocal order of the United States District Court of the Northern District of Alabama. That order called for the admission of two clearly qualified young Alabama residents who happened to have been born Negro.
That they were admitted peacefully on the campus is due in good measure to the conduct of the students of the University of Alabama, who met their responsibilities in a constructive way.
I hope that every American, regardless of where he lives, will stop and examine his conscience about this and other related incidents. This Nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.
Today we are committed to a worldwide struggle to promote and protect the rights of all who wish to be free. And when Americans are sent to Vietnam or West Berlin, we do not ask for whites only. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to attend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops.
It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants and theaters and retail stores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the street, and it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal.
It ought to be possible, in short, for every American to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. In short, every American ought to have the right to be treated as he would wish to be treated, as one would wish his children to be treated. But this is not the case.
The Negro baby born in America today, regardless of the section of the Nation in which he is born, has about one-half as much chance of completing high school as a white baby born in the same place on the same day, one-third as much chance of completing college, one-third as much chance of becoming a professional man, twice as much chance of becoming unemployed, about one-seventh as much chance of earning $10,000 a year, a life expectancy which is 7 years shorter, and the prospects of earning only half as much.
This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety. Nor is this a partisan issue. In a time of domestic crisis men of good will and generosity should be able to unite regardless of party or politics. This is not even a legal or legislative issue alone. It is better to settle these matters in the courts than on the streets, and new laws are needed at every level, but law alone cannot make men see right.
We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.
The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?
One hundred years of delay have passed since President Lincoln freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens are free.
We preach freedom around the world, and we mean it, and we cherish our freedom here at home, but are we to say to the world, and much more importantly, to each other that this is a land of the free except for the Negroes; that we have no second-class citizens except Negroes; that we have no class or cast system, no ghettoes, no master race except with respect to Negroes?
Now the time has come for this Nation to fulfill its promise. The events in Birmingham and elsewhere have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.
The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.
We face, therefore, a moral crisis as a country and as a people. It cannot be met by repressive police action. It cannot be left to increased demonstrations in the streets. It cannot be quieted by token moves or talk. It is a time to act in the Congress, in your State and local legislative body and, above all, in all of our daily lives. . . .
Next week I shall ask the Congress of the United States to act, to make a commitment it has not fully made in this century to the proposition that race has no place in American life or law. The Federal judiciary has upheld that proposition in a series of forthright cases. The executive branch has adopted that proposition in the conduct of its affairs, including the employment of Federal personnel, the use of Federal facilities, and the sale of federally financed housing.
But there are other necessary measures which only the Congress can provide, and they must be provided at this session. The old code of equity law under which we live commands for every wrong a remedy, but in too many communities, in too many parts of the country, wrongs are inflicted on Negro citizens and there are no remedies at law. Unless the Congress acts, their only remedy is in the street.
I am, therefore, asking the Congress to enact legislation giving all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public – hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments.
This seems to me to be an elementary right. Its denial is an arbitrary indignity that no American in 1963 should have to endure, but many do. . . .
I am also asking Congress to authorize the Federal Government to participate more fully in lawsuits designed to end segregation in public education. We have succeeded in persuading many districts to desegregate voluntarily. Dozens have admitted Negroes without violence. Today a Negro is attending a state-supported institution in every one of our 50 States, but the pace is very slow. . . .
Other features will be also requested, including greater protection for the right to vote. But legislation, I repeat, cannot solve this problem alone. It must be solved in the homes of every American in every community across our country.
In this respect, I want to pay tribute to those citizens North and South who have been working in their communities to make life better for all. They are acting not out of a sense of legal duty but out of a sense of human decency.
Like our soldiers and sailors in all parts of the world, they are meeting freedom’s challenge on the firing line, and I salute them for their honor and their courage.
My fellow Americans, this is a problem which faces us all – in every city of the North as well as the South. Today there are Negroes unemployed, two or three times as many compared to whites, inadequate in education, moving into the large cities, unable to find work, young people particularly out of work without hope, denied equal rights, denied the opportunity to eat at a restaurant or lunch counter or go to a movie theater, denied the right to a decent education, denied almost today the right to attend a state university even though qualified. It seems to me that these are matters which concern us all, not merely Presidents or Congressmen or Governors, but every citizen of the United States.
This is one country. It has become one country because all of us and all the people who came here had an equal chance to develop their talents. . . .
Therefore, I am asking for your help in making it easier for us to move ahead and to provide the kind of equality of treatment which we would want ourselves; to give a chance for every child to be educated to the limit of his talents.
As I have said before, not every child has an equal talent or an equal ability or an equal motivation, but they should have the equal right to develop their talent and their ability and their motivation, to make something of themselves.
We have a right to expect that the Negro community will be responsible, will uphold the law, but they have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the Constitution will be color blind, as Justice Harlan said at the turn of the century.
This is what we are talking about and this is a matter which concerns this country and what it stands for, and in meeting it I ask the support of all our citizens.
Thank you very much.
D. Senator Hubert Humphrey (D-MN) and Senator Strom Thurmond (D–SC), Debate on the Civil Rights Act, March 18, 1964
Senator Hubert Humphrey:
We simply have to face up to this question: Are we as a nation now ready to guarantee equal protection of the laws as declared in our Constitution to every American regardless of his race, his color, or his creed? The time has arrived for this nation to create a framework of law in which we can resolve our problems honorably and peacefully. Each American knows that the promises of freedom and equal treatment found in the Constitution and the laws of this country are not being fulfilled for millions of our Negro citizens and for some other minority groups. Deep in our heart we know, we know that such denials of civil rights, which we have heard about, which we have witnessed, are still taking place today. And we know that as long as freedom and equality is denied to anyone, it in a sense weakens all of us. There is indisputable evidence that fellow Americans who happen to be Negro have been denied the right to vote in a flagrant fashion. And we know that fellow Americans who happen to be Negro have been denied equal access to places of public accommodation, denied in their travels the chance for a place to rest and to eat and to relax. We know that one decade after the Supreme Court’s decision declaring school segregation to be unconstitutional that less than two percent of the Southern school districts are desegregated. And we know that Negroes do not enjoy equal employment opportunities. Frequently, they are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Now the time has come for us to correct these evils, and the civil rights bill before the Senate is designed for that purpose. It is moderate, it is reasonable, it is well designed. It was passed by the House 290 to 130. It is bi-partisan, and I think it will help give us the means to help secure, for example, the right to vote for all of our people, and it will give us the means to make possible the admittance to school rooms of children regardless of their race. And it will make sure that no American will have to suffer the indignity of being refused service at a public place. This passage of the civil rights bill, to me, is one of the great moral challenges of our time. This is not a partisan issue, this is not a sectional issue, this is, in essence, a national issue, and it is a moral issue. And it must be won by the American people.
Senator Strom Thurmond:
Mr. Sevareid and my colleague, Senator Humphry: This bill, in order to bestow preferential rights on a favored few, who vote in block, would sacrifice the Constitutional rights of every citizen, and would concentrate in the national government arbitrary powers, unchained by laws, to suppress the liberty of all. This bill makes a shambles of Constitutional guarantees and the Bill of Rights. It permits a man to be jailed and fined without a jury trial. It empowers the national government to tell each citizen who must be allowed to enter upon and use his property without any compensation or due process of law as guaranteed by the Constitution. This bill would take away the rights of individuals and give to government the power to decide who is to be hired, fired and promoted in private businesses. This bill would take away the right of individuals and give to government the power to abolish the seniority rule in labor unions and in apprenticeship programs. This bill would abandon the principle of a government of laws in favor of a government of men. It would give the power in government to government bureaucrats to decide what is discrimination. This bill would open wide the door for political favoritism with federal funds. It would vest the power in various bureaucrats to give or withhold grants, loans, and contracts on the basis of who, in the bureaucrats’ discretion, is guilty of the undefined crime of discrimination. It is because of these and other radical departures from our Constitutional system that the attempt is being made to railroad this bill through Congress without following normal procedures. It was only after lawless riots and demonstrations sprang up all over the country that the administration, after two years in office, sent this bill to Congress where it has been made even worse. This bill is intended to appease those waging a vicious campaign of civil disobedience. The leaders of the demonstrations have already stated that passage of the bill will not stop the mobs. Submitting to intimidation will only encourage further mob violence to gain preferential treatment. The issue is whether the Senate will pay the high cost of sacrificing a precious portion of each and every individual’s Constitutional rights in a vain effort to satisfy the demands of the mob. The choice is between law and anarchy. What shall rule these United States: the Constitution or the mob?
E. Associate Justice Tom C. Clark, Atlanta Motel v. United States, December 14, 1964
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. . . .
MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a declaratory judgment action, . . . attacking the constitutionality of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. . . . In addition to declaratory relief the complaint sought an injunction restraining the enforcement of the Act and damages against appellees based on allegedly resulting injury in the event compliance was required. Appellees counterclaimed for enforcement under [Section] 206 (a) of the Act and asked for a three-judge district court under 206 (b). A three-judge court, empaneled under [Section] 206 (b) as well as 28 U.S.C. 2282 (1958 ed.), sustained the validity of the Act and issued a permanent injunction on appellees’ counterclaim restraining appellant from continuing to violate the Act which remains in effect on order of MR. JUSTICE BLACK, 85 S. Ct. 1. We affirm the judgment.
1. The Factual Background and Contentions of the Parties. . . .
The appellant contends that Congress in passing this Act exceeded its power to regulate commerce under Art. I, §8, cl. 3, of the Constitution of the United States; that the Act violates the Fifth Amendment because appellant is deprived of the right to choose its customers and operate its business as it wishes, resulting in a taking of its liberty and property without due process of law and a taking of its property without just compensation; and, finally, that by requiring appellant to rent available rooms to Negroes against its will, Congress is subjecting it to involuntary servitude in contravention of the Thirteenth Amendment.
The appellees counter that the unavailability to Negroes of adequate accommodations interferes significantly with interstate travel, and that Congress, under the Commerce Clause, has power to remove such obstructions and restraints; that the Fifth Amendment does not forbid reasonable regulation and that consequential damage does not constitute a “taking” within the meaning of that amendment; that the Thirteenth Amendment claim fails because it is entirely frivolous to say that an amendment directed to the abolition of human bondage and the removal of widespread disabilities associated with slavery places discrimination in public accommodations beyond the reach of both federal and state law. . . .
. . .
3. Title II of the Act.
This Title is divided into seven sections beginning with 201 (a) which provides that:
“All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”
There are listed in 201 (b) four classes of business establishments, each of which “serves the public” and “is a place of public accommodation” within the meaning of 201 (a) “if its operations affect commerce, or if discrimination or segregation by it is supported by State action.” The covered establishments are:
“(1) any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment which provides lodging to transient guests, other than an establishment located within a building which contains not more than five rooms for rent or hire and which is actually occupied by the proprietor of such establishment as his residence . . . .”
4. Application of Title II to Heart of Atlanta Motel.
It is admitted that the operation of the motel brings it within the provisions of 201 (a) of the Act and that appellant refused to provide lodging for transient Negroes because of their race or color and that it intends to continue that policy unless restrained.
The sole question posed is, therefore, the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as applied to these facts. The legislative history of the Act indicates that Congress based the Act on [Section] 5 [below] and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as its power to regulate interstate commerce under Art. I, §8, cl. 3, of the Constitution. . . .
5. The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883), and their Application.
In light of our ground for decision, it might be well at the outset to discuss the Civil Rights Cases . . . which declared provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. . . . We think [the] decision inapposite, and without precedential value in determining the constitutionality of the present Act. Unlike Title II of the present legislation, the 1875 Act broadly proscribed discrimination in “inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement,” without limiting the categories of affected businesses to those impinging upon interstate commerce. In contrast, the applicability of Title II is carefully limited to enterprises having a direct and substantial relation to the interstate flow of goods and people, except where state action is involved. Further, the fact that certain kinds of businesses may not in 1875 have been sufficiently involved in interstate commerce to warrant bringing them within the ambit of the commerce power is not necessarily dispositive of the same question today. Our populace had not reached its present mobility, nor were facilities, goods and services circulating as readily in interstate commerce as they are today. Although the principles which we apply today are those first formulated by Chief Justice Marshall in Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1 (1824), the conditions of transportation and commerce have changed dramatically, and we must apply those principles to the present state of commerce. The sheer increase in volume of interstate traffic alone would give discriminatory practices which inhibit travel a far larger impact upon the Nation’s commerce than such practices had on the economy of another day. Finally, there is language in the Civil Rights Cases which indicates that the Court did not fully consider whether the 1875 Act could be sustained as an exercise of the commerce power. Though the Court observed that, “no one will contend that the power to pass it was contained in the Constitution before the adoption of the last three amendments [Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth],” the Court went on specifically to note that the Act was not “conceived” in terms of the commerce power . . .
Since the commerce power was not relied on by the Government and was without support in the record, it is understandable that the Court narrowed its inquiry and excluded the Commerce Clause as a possible source of power. In any event, it is clear that such a limitation renders the opinion devoid of authority for the proposition that the Commerce Clause gives no power to Congress to regulate discriminatory practices now found substantially to affect interstate commerce. We, therefore, conclude that the Civil Rights Cases have no relevance to the basis of decision here where the Act explicitly relies upon the commerce power, and where the record is filled with testimony of obstructions and restraints resulting from the discriminations found to be existing. We now pass to that phase of the case.
6. The Basis of Congressional Action.
While the Act, as adopted, carried no congressional findings, the record of its passage through each house is replete with evidence of the burdens that discrimination by race or color places upon interstate commerce. . . . This testimony included the fact that our people have become increasingly mobile with millions of people of all races traveling from State to State; that Negroes in particular have been the subject of discrimination in transient accommodations, having to travel great distances to secure the same; that often they have been unable to obtain accommodations and have had to call upon friends to put them up overnight . . . and that these conditions had become so acute as to require the listing of available lodging for Negroes in a special guidebook which was itself “dramatic testimony to the difficulties” Negroes encounter in travel. . . . These exclusionary practices were found to be nationwide, the Under Secretary of Commerce testifying that there is “no question that this discrimination in the North still exists to a large degree” and in the West and Midwest as well. . . . This testimony indicated a qualitative as well as quantitative effect on interstate travel by Negroes. The former was the obvious impairment of the Negro traveler’s pleasure and convenience that resulted when he continually was uncertain of finding lodging. As for the latter, there was evidence that this uncertainty stemming from racial discrimination had the effect of discouraging travel on the part of a substantial portion of the Negro community. . . . This was the conclusion not only of the Under Secretary of Commerce but also of the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Agency who wrote the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee that it was his “belief that air commerce is adversely affected by the denial to a substantial segment of the traveling public of adequate and desegregated public accommodations.” . . . We shall not burden this opinion with further details since the voluminous testimony presents overwhelming evidence that discrimination by hotels and motels impedes interstate travel.
7. The Power of Congress Over Interstate Travel.
The power of Congress to deal with these obstructions depends on the meaning of the Commerce Clause. Its meaning was first enunciated 140 years ago by the great Chief Justice John Marshall in Gibbons v. Ogden . . . .
In short, the determinative test of the exercise of power by the Congress under the Commerce Clause is simply whether the activity sought to be regulated is “commerce which concerns more States than one” and has a real and substantial relation to the national interest. Let us now turn to this facet of the problem. . . .
It is said that the operation of the motel here is of a purely local character. But, assuming this to be true, “[i]f it is interstate commerce that feels the pinch, it does not matter how local the operation which applies the squeeze.” United States v. Women’s Sportswear Mfrs. Assn., 336 U.S. 460, 464 (1949). . . .
Thus the power of Congress to promote interstate commerce also includes the power to regulate the local incidents thereof, including local activities in both the states of origin and destination, which might have a substantial and harmful effect upon that commerce. One need only examine the evidence which we have discussed above to see that Congress may – as it has –prohibit racial discrimination by motels serving travelers, however “local” their operations may appear.
Nor does the Act deprive appellant of liberty or property under the Fifth Amendment. The commerce power invoked here by the Congress is a specific and plenary one authorized by the Constitution itself. The only questions are: (1) whether Congress had a rational basis for finding that racial discrimination by motels affected commerce, and (2) if it had such a basis, whether the means it selected to eliminate that evil are reasonable and appropriate. If they are, appellant has no “right” to select its guests as it sees fit, free from governmental regulation.
There is nothing novel about such legislation. Thirty-two States now have it on their books either by statute or executive order and many cities provide such regulation. Some of these Acts go back fourscore years. It has been repeatedly held by this Court that such laws do not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. . . .
As we have pointed out, 32 states now have such provisions and no case has been cited to us where the attack on a state statute has been successful, either in federal or state courts. . . .
It is doubtful if in the long run appellant will suffer economic loss as a result of the Act. Experience is to the contrary where discrimination is completely obliterated as to all public accommodations. But whether this be true or not is of no consequence, since this Court has specifically held that the fact that a “member of the class which is regulated may suffer economic losses not shared by others . . . has never been a barrier” to such legislation. . . . Likewise, in a long line of cases, this Court has rejected the claim that the prohibition of racial discrimination in public accommodations interferes with personal liberty. . . . Neither do we find any merit in the claim that the Act is a taking of property without just compensation. The cases are to the contrary. . . . We find no merit in the remainder of appellant’s contentions, including that of “involuntary servitude.” As we have seen, 32 States prohibit racial discrimination in public accommodations. These laws but codify the common-law innkeeper rule which long predated the Thirteenth Amendment. It is difficult to believe that the Amendment was intended to abrogate this principle. . . .
We therefore conclude that the action of the Congress in the adoption of the Act as applied here to a motel which concededly serves interstate travelers is within the power granted it by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, as interpreted by this Court for 140 years. It may be argued that Congress could have pursued other methods to eliminate the obstructions it found in interstate commerce caused by racial discrimination. But this is a matter of policy that rests entirely with the Congress, not with the courts. How obstructions in commerce may be removed – what means are to be employed – is within the sound and exclusive discretion of the Congress. It is subject only to one caveat – that the means chosen by it must be reasonably adapted to the end permitted by the Constitution. We cannot say that its choice here was not so adapted. The Constitution requires no more.
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