Ollie’s Barbeque, a family-owned restaurant in Alabama has refused to accommodate Blacks while the restaurant has annually received about $70,000 worth of food which has moved in commerce. The appellant challenged Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, with which Congress prohibited the restaurant’s practice of discriminating against Blacks.
If operations of a restaurant including its practice has a direct and adverse effect on the free flow of interstate commerce, Congress has the power to regulate under the Commerce Clause.
Ollie’s Barbecue is a family-owned restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama and has a seating capacity of 220 customers. It is located on a state highway 11 blocks from an interstate one and a somewhat greater distance from railroad and bus stations. The restaurant caters to a family and white-collar trade with a take-out service for Blacks. Out of its 36 employees, two-thirds are Blacks. It purchased more than 46% worth of food from outside the State. The District Court found that a substantial portion of the food served had moved in interstate commerce. The restaurant has refused to serve Blacks in its dining accommodations since its original opening in 1927.
Is Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as applied to a restaurant annually receiving about $70,000 worth of food which has moved in commerce a valid exercise of the power of Congress?
Yes, Congress may regulate the practice of the restaurant in question under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, because racial discrimination in restaurants had a direct and adverse effect on the free flow of interstate commerce. After a good amount of evidence, Congress determined that refusals of service to Blacks have imposed burdens both upon the interstate flow of food and upon the movement of products generally. Legislators had a rational basis for finding a chosen regulatory scheme necessary to the protection of commerce.
The power of Congress in the field of interstate commerce is broad and sweeping. Where it keeps within its sphere and violates no express constitutional limitation, it has been the rule of the court not to interfere. There was an impressive array of testimony that discrimination in restaurants had a direct and highly restrictive effect upon interstate travel by Blacks. This resulted because discriminatory practices prevent Blacks from buying prepared food served on the premises while on a trip. The practice of the restaurant discourages travel and obstructs interstate commerce for one can hardly travel without eating. Likewise, that discrimination deterred professional as well as skilled people from moving into areas where such practices occurred and caused industry to be reluctant to establish there. The District Court, therefore, erred in ruling that there was no connection between discrimination and the movement of interstate commerce.