Brief Fact Summary.
The petitioners sued the respondents who refused to sell them a home solely because the petitioner was a Negro.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The power vested in Congress to enforce the article by appropriate legislation includes the power to enact laws direct and primary, operating upon the acts of individuals, whether sanctioned by State legislation or not.
Section 2 provided: That any person who, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, shall subject, or cause to be subjected, any inhabitant of any State or Territory to the deprivation of any right secured or protected by this act, or to different punishment, pains, or penalties on account of such person having at any time been held in a condition of slavery or involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, or by reason of his color or race, than is prescribed for the punishment of white persons, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction, shall be punished by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars, or imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both, in the discretion of the court.View Full Point of Law
In 1965, the petitioners filed a complaint in the district court for the Eastern District of Missouri, alleging that the respondents had refused to sell them a home in the Paddock Woods community of St. Louis County for the sole reason that petitioner Joseph Lee Jones is a Negro. The petitioners relied on the federal statute that provides “all citizens shall have the same right as is enjoyed by white citizens to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey property.”
Is the federal statute that provides “all citizens shall have the same right as is enjoyed by white citizens to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey property” valid under the Constitution?
Yes, the federal statute bars all racial discrimination, private as well as public, in the sale or rental of property, and that the statute, as construed, is a valid exercise of the power of Congress to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment. The authority of Congress to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment by appropriate legislation include the power to eliminate all racial barriers to the acquisition of real and property property. Therefore, the federal state at issue is constitutional.
The statute at issue does not forbid purely private as well as state-authorized discrimination. There is an inherent ambiguity in the term “right” as used in the statute. The right referred to may either be a right to equal status under the law, in which case the statute operates only against state-sanctioned discrimination, or it may be an absolute right enforceable against private individuals. The words of the statute suggests the former interpretation.
If the statute had been intended to grant nothing more than an immunity from governmental interference, the statute would have made no sense at all. The congressional debates are replete with references to private injustices against Negroes – references to white employers who refused to pay their Negro workers, white planters who agreed among themselves not to hire freed slaves without the permission of their former masters. Moreover, by its own unaided force and effect, the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, and established universal freedom. Whether or not the Amendment itself did any more than that, it is clear that the Amendment empowered Congress to do much more. The Amendment granted Congress with power to pass all laws necessary and proper for abolishing all badges and incidents of slavery in the United States. The badges and incidents of slavery included restraints upon those fundamental rights which are the essence of civil freedom, namely, the same right to inherit, purchase, sell, lease property, as is enjoyed by white citizens.