Jones v. Mayer 1968

A landmark Supreme Court case of 1968 in which the Supreme Court ruled that private discrimination in the rental or sale of housing was prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1866. In the ruling the 1866 act constitutional under the Thirteenth Amendment, the Court opened new avenues for the legal pursuit of equal rights that exploded in the 1960's.

Topics:civil rights, Martin Luther King(killed 1968), Robert Kennedy(also killed 1968).

U.S. Supreme Court

JONES v. MAYER CO., 392 U.S. 409 (1968)*

JONES ET UX. v. ALFRED H. MAYER CO. ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.
No. 645.
Argued April 1-2, 1968.
Decided June 17, 1968.

Petitioners, alleging that respondents had refused to sell them a home for the sole reason that petitioner Joseph Lee Jones is a Negro, filed a complaint in the District Court, seeking injunctive and other relief. Petitioners relied in part upon 42 U.S.C. 1982, which provides that all citizens "shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property." The District Court dismissed the complaint and the Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that 1982 applies only to state action and does not reach private refusals to sell.

Held:

1. Congress' enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, containing in Title VIII detailed housing provisions applicable to a broad range of discriminatory practices and enforceable by a complete arsenal of federal authority, had no effect upon this litigation or upon 1982, a general statute limited to racial discrimination in the sale and rental of property and enforceable only by private parties acting on their own initiative. Pp. 413-417.

2. Section 1982 applies to all racial discrimination in the sale or rental or property. Pp. 417-437.
(a) Section 1982 has previously been construed to do more than grant Negro citizens the general legal capacity to buy and rent property free of prohibitions that wholly disable them because of their race. Hurd v. Hodge, 334 U.S. 24*. Pp. 417-419.
(b) The question whether purely private discrimination unaided by any governmental action violates 1982 remains one of first impression in this Court. Hurd v. Hodge, supra; Corrigan v. Buckley, 271 U.S. 323; the Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3; and Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313*, distinguished. Pp. 419-420.
(c) On its face, the language of 1982 appears to prohibit all discrimination against Negroes in the sale or rental of property. Pp. 420-422.
(d) The legislative history of 1982, which was part of 1 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, likewise shows that both Houses of Congress believed that they were enacting a comprehensive statute (392 U.S. 409, 410)*   forbidding every form of racial discrimination affecting the basic civil rights enumerated therein - including the right to purchase or lease property - and thereby securing all such rights against interference from any source whatever, whether governmental or private. Pp. 422-436.
(e) The scope of the 1866 Act was not altered when it was re-enacted in 1870, two years after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 436-437.
(f) That 1982 lay partially dormant for many years does not diminish its force today. P. 437.

3. Congress has power under the Thirteenth Amendment to do what 42 U.S.C. 1982 purports to do. Pp. 437-444.
(a) Because the Thirteenth Amendment "is not a mere prohibition of State laws establishing or upholding slavery, but an absolute declaration that slavery or involuntary servitude shall not exist in any part of the United States," Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 20*, it has never been doubted "that the power vested in Congress to enforce the article by appropriate legislation," ibid., includes the power to enact laws "operating upon the acts of individuals, whether sanctioned by State legislation or not." Id., at 23. See Clyatt v. United States, 197 U.S. 207*. P. 438.
(b) The Thirteenth Amendment authorized Congress to do more than merely dissolve the legal bond by which the Negro slave was held to his master; it gave Congress the power rationally to determine what are the badges and the incidents of slavery and the authority to translate that determination into effective legislation. Pp. 439-440.
(c) Whatever else they may have encompassed, the badges and incidents of slavery that the Thirteenth Amendment empowered Congress to eliminate included restraints upon "those fundamental rights which are the essence of civil freedom, namely, the same right . . . to inherit, purchase, lease, sell and convey property, as is enjoyed by white citizens." Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 22*. Insofar as Hodges v. United States, 203 U.S. 1 , suggests a contrary holding, it is overruled. Pp. 441-443.

379 F.2d 33, reversed.*
See Also: Landmark Case, Civil Rights Rulings (Circa 1960's)
* Click here to understand what those numbers mean

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