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PALMER ET AL. v. THOMPSON

decided: June 14, 1971.

PALMER ET AL
v.
THOMPSON, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF JACKSON ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.

Black, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Harlan, Stewart, and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Burger, C. J., post, p. 227, and Blackmun, J., post, p. 228, filed concurring opinions. Douglas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 231. White, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan and Marshall, JJ., joined, post, p. 240. Marshall, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan and White, JJ., joined, post, p. 271.

Author: Black

[ 403 U.S. Page 218]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1962 the city of Jackson, Mississippi, was maintaining five public parks along with swimming pools, golf links, and other facilities for use by the public on a racially segregated basis. Four of the swimming pools were used by whites only and one by Negroes only. Plaintiffs brought an action in the United States District

[ 403 U.S. Page 219]

     Court seeking a declaratory judgment that this state-enforced segregation of the races was a violation of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, and asking an injunction to forbid such practices. After hearings the District Court entered a judgment declaring that enforced segregation denied equal protection of the laws but it declined to issue an injunction.*fn1 The Court of Appeals affirmed, and we denied certiorari.*fn2 The city proceeded to desegregate its public parks, auditoriums, golf courses, and the city zoo. However, the city council decided not to try to operate the public swimming pools on a desegregated basis. Acting in its legislative capacity, the council surrendered its lease on one pool and closed four which the city owned. A number of Negro citizens of Jackson then filed this suit to force the city to reopen the pools and operate them on a desegregated basis. The District Court found that the closing was justified to preserve peace and order and because the pools could not be operated economically on an integrated basis.*fn3 It held the city's action did not deny black citizens equal protection of the laws. The Court of Appeals sitting en banc affirmed, six out of 13 judges dissenting.*fn4 That court rejected the contention that since the pools had been closed either in whole or in part to avoid desegregation the city council's action was a denial of equal protection of the laws. We granted certiorari to decide that question. We affirm.

I

Petitioners rely chiefly on the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment which forbids any State to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection

[ 403 U.S. Page 220]

     of the laws." There can be no doubt that a major purpose of this amendment was to safeguard Negroes against discriminatory state laws -- state laws that fail to give Negroes protection equal to that afforded white people. History shows that the achievement of equality for Negroes was the urgent purpose not only for passage of the Fourteenth Amendment but for the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments as well. See, e. g., Slaughter-House Cases, 16 Wall. 36, 71-72 (1873). Thus the Equal Protection Clause was principally designed to protect Negroes against discriminatory action by the States. Here there has unquestionably been "state action" because the official local government legislature, the city council, has closed the public swimming pools of Jackson. The question, however, is whether this closing of the pools is state action that denies "the equal protection of the laws" to Negroes. It should be noted first that neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor any Act of Congress purports to impose an affirmative duty on a State to begin to operate or to continue to operate swimming pools. Furthermore, this is not a case where whites are permitted to use public facilities while blacks are denied access. It is not a case where a city is maintaining different sets of facilities for blacks and whites and forcing the races to remain separate in recreational or educational activities.*fn5 See, e. g., Watson v. City of Memphis, 373 U.S. 526 (1963); Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

Unless, therefore, as petitioners urge, certain past cases require us to hold that closing the pools to all denied

[ 403 U.S. Page 221]

     equal protection to Negroes, we must agree with the courts below and affirm.

II

Although petitioners cite a number of our previous cases, the only two which even plausibly support their argument are Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 377 U.S. 218 (1964), and Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369 (1967). For the reasons that follow, however, neither case leads us to reverse the judgment here.*fn6

A. In Griffin the public schools of Prince Edward County, Virginia, were closed under authority of state and county law, and so-called "private schools" were set up in their place to avoid a court desegregation order. At the same time, public schools in other counties in Virginia remained open. In Prince Edward County the "private schools" were open to whites only and these schools were in fact run by a practical partnership

[ 403 U.S. Page 222]

     between State and county, designed to preserve segregated education. We pointed out in Griffin the many facets of state involvement in the running of the "private schools." The State General Assembly had made available grants of $150 per child to make the program possible. This was supplemented by a county grant program of $100 per child and county property tax credits for citizens contributing to the "private schools." Under those circumstances we held that the closing of public schools in just one county while the State helped finance "private schools" was a scheme to perpetuate segregation in education which constituted a denial of equal protection of the laws. Thus the Griffin case simply treated the school program for what it was -- an operation of Prince Edward County schools under a thinly disguised "private" school system actually planned and carried out by the State and the county to maintain segregated education with public funds. That case can give no comfort to petitioners here. This record supports no intimation that Jackson has not completely and finally ceased running swimming pools for all time. Unlike Prince Edward County, Jackson has not pretended to close public pools only to run them under a "private" label. It is true that the Leavell Woods pool, previously leased by the city from the YMCA, is now run by that organization and appears to be open only to whites. And according to oral argument, another pool owned by the city before 1963 is now owned and operated by Jackson State College, a predominantly black institution, for college students and their guests.*fn7 But unlike the "private schools" in Prince Edward County there is nothing here to show the city is directly or indirectly involved in the funding or operation of either pool.*fn8 If the time ever

[ 403 U.S. Page 223]

     comes when Jackson attempts to run segregated public pools either directly or indirectly, or participates in a subterfuge whereby pools are nominally run by "private parties" but actually by the city, relief will be available in the federal courts.

B. Petitioners also claim that Jackson's closing of the public pools authorizes or encourages private pool owners to discriminate on account of race and that such "encouragement" is prohibited by Reitman v. Mulkey, supra.

In Reitman, California had repealed two laws relating to racial discrimination in the sale of housing by passing a constitutional amendment establishing the right of private persons to discriminate on racial grounds in real estate transactions. This Court there accepted what it designated as the holding of the Supreme Court of California, namely that the constitutional amendment was an official authorization of racial discrimination which significantly involved the State in the discriminatory acts of private parties. 387 U.S., at 376-378, 380-381.

In the first place there are no findings here about any state "encouragement" of discrimination, and it is not clear that any such theory was ever considered by the District Court. The implication of petitioners' argument appears to be that the fact the city turned over to the YMCA a pool it had previously leased is sufficient to show automatically that the city has conspired with the YMCA to deprive Negroes of the opportunity to swim in integrated pools. Possibly in a case where the city and the YMCA were both parties, a court could find that the city engaged in a subterfuge, and that liability could be fastened on it as an active participant

[ 403 U.S. Page 224]

     in a conspiracy with the YMCA. We need not speculate upon such a possibility, for there is no such finding here, and it does not appear from this record that there was evidence to support such a finding. Reitman v. Mulkey was based on a theory that the evidence was sufficient to show the State was abetting a refusal to rent apartments on racial grounds. On this record, Reitman offers no more support to petitioners than does Griffin.

III

Petitioners have also argued that respondents' action violates the Equal Protection Clause because the decision to close the pools was motivated by a desire to avoid integration of the races. But no case in this Court has held that a legislative act may violate equal protection solely because of the motivations of the men who voted for it. The pitfalls of such analysis were set forth clearly in the landmark opinion of Mr. Chief Justice Marshall in Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch 87, 130 (1810), where the Court declined to set aside the Georgia Legislature's sale of lands on the theory that its members were corruptly motivated in passing the bill.

A similar contention that illicit motivation should lead to a finding of unconstitutionality was advanced in United States v. O'Brien, 391 U.S. 367, 383 (1968), where this Court rejected the argument that a defendant could not be punished for burning his draft card because Congress had allegedly passed the statute to stifle dissent. That opinion explained well the hazards of declaring a law unconstitutional because of the motivations of its sponsors. First, it is extremely difficult for a court to ascertain the motivation, or collection of different motivations, that lie behind a legislative enactment. Id., at 383, 384. Here, for example, petitioners have argued that the Jackson pools were closed because of ideological opposition to racial integration in swimming

[ 403 U.S. Page 225]

     pools. Some evidence in the record appears to support this argument. On the other hand the courts below found that the pools were closed because the city council felt they could not be operated safely and economically on an integrated basis. There is substantial evidence in the record to support this conclusion. It is difficult or impossible for any court to determine the "sole" or "dominant" motivation behind the choices of a group of legislators. Furthermore, there is an element of futility in a judicial attempt to invalidate a law because of the bad motives of its supporters. If the law is struck down for this reason, rather than because of its facial content or effect, it would presumably be valid as soon as the legislature or relevant governing body repassed it for different reasons.

It is true there is language in some of our cases interpreting the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments which may suggest that the motive or purpose behind a law is relevant to its constitutionality. Griffin v. County School Board, supra; Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339, 347 (1960). But the focus in those cases was on the actual effect of the enactments, not upon the motivation which led the States to behave as they did. In Griffin, as discussed supra, the State was in fact perpetuating a segregated public school system by financing segregated "private" academies. And in Gomillion the Alabama Legislature's gerrymander of the boundaries of Tuskegee excluded virtually all Negroes from voting in town elections. Here the record indicates only that Jackson once ran segregated public swimming pools and that no public pools are now maintained by the city. Moreover, there is no evidence in this record to show that the city is now covertly aiding the maintenance and operation of pools which are private in name only. It shows no state action affecting blacks differently from whites.

[ 403 U.S. Page 226]

     Petitioners have argued strenuously that a city's possible motivations to ensure safety and save money cannot validate an otherwise impermissible state action. This proposition is, of course, true. Citizens may not be compelled to forgo their constitutional rights because officials fear public hostility or desire to save money. Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60 (1917); Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958); Watson v. City of Memphis, 373 U.S. 526 (1963). But the issue here is whether black citizens in Jackson are being denied their constitutional rights when the city has closed the public pools to black and white alike. Nothing in the history or the language of the Fourteenth Amendment nor in any of our prior cases persuades us that the closing of the Jackson swimming pools to all its citizens constitutes a denial of "the equal protection of the laws."

IV

Finally, some faint and unpersuasive argument has been made by petitioners that the closing of the pools violated the Thirteenth Amendment which freed the Negroes from slavery. The argument runs this way: The first Mr. Justice Harlan's dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 552 (1896), argued strongly that the purpose of the Thirteenth Amendment was not only to outlaw slavery but also all of its "badges and incidents." This broad reading of the amendment was affirmed in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968). The denial of the right of Negroes to swim in pools with white people is said to be a "badge or incident" of slavery. Consequently, the argument seems to run, this Court should declare that the city's closing of the pools to keep the two races from swimming together violates the Thirteenth Amendment. To reach that result from the Thirteenth Amendment would severely stretch its short simple words and do violence to its history. Establishing

[ 403 U.S. Page 227]

     this Court's authority under the Thirteenth Amendment to declare new laws to govern the thousands of towns and cities of the country would grant it a lawmaking power far beyond the imagination of the amendment's authors. Finally, although the Thirteenth Amendment is a skimpy collection of words to allow this Court to legislate new laws to control the operation of swimming pools throughout the length and breadth of this Nation, the Amendment does contain other words that we held in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. could empower Congress to outlaw "badges of slavery." The last sentence of the Amendment reads:

"Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

But Congress has passed no law under this power to regulate a city's opening or closing of swimming pools or other recreational facilities.

It has not been so many years since it was first deemed proper and lawful for cities to tax their citizens to build and operate swimming pools for the public. Probably few persons, prior to this case, would have imagined that cities could be forced by five lifetime judges to construct or refurbish swimming pools which they choose not to operate for any reason, sound or unsound. Should citizens of Jackson or any other city be able to establish in court that public, tax-supported swimming pools are being denied to one group because of color and supplied to another, they will be entitled to relief. But that is not the case here.

The judgment is affirmed.

Disposition

419 F.2d 1222, affirmed.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, concurring.

I join the opinion of MR. JUSTICE BLACK, but add a brief comment.

The elimination of any needed or useful public accommodation

[ 403 U.S. Page 228]

     or service is surely undesirable and this is particularly so of public recreational facilities. Unfortunately the growing burdens and shrinking revenues of municipal and state governments may lead to more and more curtailment of desirable services. Inevitably every such constriction will affect some groups or segments of the community more than others. To find an equal protection issue in every closing of public swimming pools, tennis courts, or golf courses would distort beyond reason the meaning of that important constitutional guarantee. To hold, as petitioners would have us do, that every public facility or service, once opened, constitutionally "locks in" the public sponsor so that it may not be dropped (see the footnote to MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN's concurring opinion), would plainly discourage the expansion and enlargement of needed services in the long run.

We are, of course, not dealing with the wisdom or desirability of public swimming pools; we are asked to hold on a very meager record that the Constitution requires that public swimming pools, once opened, may not be closed. But all that is good is not commanded by the Constitution and all that is bad is not forbidden by it. We would do a grave disservice, both to elected officials and to the public, were we to require that every decision of local governments to terminate a desirable service be subjected to a microscopic scrutiny for forbidden motives rendering the decision unconstitutional.

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concurring.

I, too, join MR. JUSTICE BLACK's opinion and the judgment of the Court.

Cases such as this are "hard" cases for there is much to be said on each side. In isolation this litigation may

[ 403 U.S. Page 229]

     not be of great importance; however, it may have significant implications.

The dissent of MR. JUSTICE WHITE rests on a conviction that the closing of the Jackson pools was racially motivated, at least in part, and that municipal action so motivated is not to be tolerated. That dissent builds to its conclusion with a detailed review of the city's and the State's official attitudes of past years.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK's opinion stresses, on the other hand, the facially equal effect upon all citizens of the decision to discontinue the pools. It also emphasizes the difficulty and undesirability of resting any constitutional decision upon what is claimed to be legislative motivation.

I remain impressed with the following factors: (1) No other municipal recreational facility in the city of Jackson has been discontinued. Indeed, every other service -- parks, auditoriums, golf courses, zoo -- that once was segregated, has been continued and operates on a nonsegregated basis. One must concede that this was effectuated initially under pressure of the 1962 declaratory judgment of the federal court. (2) The pools are not part of the city's educational system. They are a general municipal service of the nice-to-have but not essential variety, and they are a service, perhaps a luxury, not enjoyed by many communities. (3) The pools had operated at a deficit. It was the judgment of the city officials that these deficits would increase. (4) I cannot read into the closing of the pools an official expression of inferiority toward black citizens, as MR. JUSTICE WHITE and those who join him repetitively assert, post, at 240-241, 266, and 268, and certainly on this record I cannot perceive this to be a "fact" or anything other than speculation. Furthermore, the alleged deterrent to relief, said to exist because of the risk of losing other public facilities, post, at 269,

[ 403 U.S. Page 230]

     is not detectable here in the face of the continued and desegregated presence of all other recreational facilities provided by the city of Jackson. (5) The response of petitioners' counsel at oral argument to my inquiry*fn* whether the city was to be "locked in" with its pools for an indefinite time in the future, despite financial loss of whatever amount, just because at one time the pools of Jackson had been segregated, is disturbing.

There are, of course, opposing considerations enumerated in the two dissenting opinions. As my Brothers BLACK, DOUGLAS, and WHITE all point out, however, the Court's past cases do not precisely control this one, and the present case, if reversed, would take us farther than any before. On balance, in the light of the factors I have listed above, my judgment is that this is neither the time nor the occasion to be punitive toward Jackson for its past constitutional sins of segregation. On the record as presented to us in this case, I therefore vote to affirm.

[ 403 U.S. Page 231]

     MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.

Jackson, Mississippi, closed all the swimming pools owned and operated by it, following a judgment of the Court of Appeals in Clark v. Thompson, 313 F.2d 637, which affirmed the District Court's grant of a declaratory judgment that three Negroes were entitled to the desegregated use of the city's swimming pools. 206 F.Supp. 539. No municipal swimming facilities have been opened to any citizen of either race since that time; and the city apparently does not intend to reopen the pools on an integrated basis.

That program is not, however, permissible if it denies rights created or protected by the Constitution. Buchanan v. Warley, 245 U.S. 60, 81. I think that the plan has that constitutional defect; and that is the burden of this dissent.

Hunter v. Erickson, 393 U.S. 385, Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U.S. 369, and Griffin v. County School Board, 377 U.S. 218, do not precisely control the present case. They are different because there state action perpetuated ongoing regimes of racial discrimination in which the State was implicated.

In Griffin, the State closed public schools in one county only, not in the others, and meanwhile contributed to the support of private segregated white schools. 377 U.S., at 232. That, of course, was a continuation of segregation in another form. In Hunter a city passed a housing law which provided that before an ordinance regulating the sale or lease of realty on the basis of race could become effective it had to be approved by a majority vote. Thus the protection of minority interests became much more difficult.*fn1 We held that a state agency

[ 403 U.S. Page 232]

     could not in its voting scheme so disadvantage Negro interests. In Reitman the State repealed legislation prohibiting racial discrimination in housing, thus encouraging racial discrimination in the housing market. 387 U.S., at 376.

Whether, in the closing of all municipal swimming pools in Jackson, Mississippi, any artifices and devices were employed as in Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715, to make the appearance not conform to the reality, is not shown by this record. Under Burton, if the State has a continuing connection with a swimming pool, it becomes a public facility and the State is under obligation to see that the operators meet all Fourteenth Amendment responsibilities. 365 U.S., at 725. We may not reverse under Burton because we do not know what the relevant facts are.

Closer in point is Bush v. Orleans Parish School Board, 187 F.Supp. 42, aff'd, 365 U.S. 569. Louisiana, as part of her strategy to avoid a desegregated public school system, authorized the Governor to close any public school ordered to be integrated. The three-judge District Court relying on Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 17, held that the Act was unconstitutional and enjoined the Governor from enforcing it. The District Court decision was so clearly correct that we wrote no opinion when we affirmed the three-judge court. While there were other Louisiana laws also held unconstitutional as perpetuating a ...


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