Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States
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|Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States|
|Argued October 5, 1964
Decided December 14, 1964
|Full case name||Heart of Atlanta Motel, Incorporated v. United States, et al.|
|Citations||379 U.S. 241 (more)
85 S. Ct. 348; 13 L. Ed. 2d 258; 1964 U.S. LEXIS 2187; 1 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P9712
|Prior history||Judgment for defendant, 231 F.Supp. 393 (N.D. Ga. 1964). Appeal from the United States Court of the Northern District of Georgia|
|Congress did not unconstitutionally exceed its powers under the Commerce Clause by enacting Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited racial discrimination in public accommodations. Northern District of Georgia affirmed.|
|Majority||Clark, joined by Warren, Douglas, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg|
|U.S. Const. art. I; Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964|
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Heart of Atlanta Motel Inc. v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964),  was a landmark United States Supreme Court case holding that the U.S. Congress could use the Constitution's Commerce Clause power to force private businesses to abide by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This important case represented an immediate challenge to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark piece of civil rights legislation which represented the first comprehensive act by Congress on civil rights and race relations since the Civil Rights Act of 1875. For much of the 100 years preceding 1964, race relations in the United States had been dominated by segregation, a system of racial separation which, while in name providing for "separate but equal" treatment of both white and black Americans, in truth perpetuated inferior accommodation, services, and treatment for black Americans.
During the mid-20th century, partly as a result of cases such as Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944); Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948); Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950); McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950); NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958); Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) and probably the most famous, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the tide against segregation began to turn. However, segregation remained in full effect into the 1960s in parts of the southern United States, where the Heart of Atlanta Motel was located, despite these decisions.
The Heart of Atlanta motel was a large, 216-room motel in Atlanta, Georgia, which refused to rent rooms to black patrons, in direct violation of the terms of the act. The owner of the motel, Moreton Rolleston, filed suit in federal court, arguing that the requirements of the act exceeded the authority granted to Congress over interstate commerce. In addition, the owner argued that the act violated his Fifth Amendment rights to choose customers and operate his business as he wished and resulted in unjust deprivation of his property without due process of law and just compensation. Finally, the owner argued that Congress had placed him in a position of involuntary servitude by forcing him to rent available rooms to blacks, thereby violating his Thirteenth Amendment rights.
In response, the United States countered that the restrictions in adequate accommodation for black Americans severely interfered with interstate travel, and that Congress, under the United States Constitution's Commerce clause, was certainly within its power to address such matters. Moreover, they argued, the Fifth Amendment does not forbid reasonable regulation of interstate commerce and such incidental damage did not constitute the "taking" of property without just compensation or due process of law. Third, they argued that the Thirteenth Amendment applied primarily to slavery and the removal of widespread disabilities associated with it; in such kind, the Amendment certainly would not place issues of racial discrimination in public accommodations beyond the reach of Federal and state law.
The District court ruled in favor of the United States and issued a permanent injunction requiring the Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. to refrain from using racial discrimination in terms of the goods or services that it offered to guests or the general public upon its premises. The owner of the motel was Attorney Moreton Rolleston. This case was combined with the case of the future Governor of Georgia Lester Maddox concerning his Pickrick restaurant and his case to refuse to serve blacks.
Announced on December 14, 1964, the opinion of the court was delivered by Justice Tom C. Clark, with concurring opinions by Justice Arthur Goldberg, Justice Hugo Black, and Justice William O. Douglas.
The Court held that Congress acted well within its jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce clause in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, thereby upholding the act's Title II in question. While it might have been possible for Congress to pursue other methods for abolishing racial discrimination, the way in which Congress did so, according to the Court, was perfectly valid. It found no merit in the arguments pursuant to the Thirteenth Amendment, finding it hard to conceive that such an Amendment might possibly be applicable in restraining civil rights legislation. Having observed that 75% of the Heart of Atlanta Motel's clientele came from out-of-state, and that it was strategically located near Interstates 75 and 85 as well as two major U.S. Highways, the Court found that the business clearly affected interstate commerce. As such, it therefore upheld the permanent injunction issued by the District Court, and required the Heart of Atlanta Motel to receive business from clientele of all races.
- Text of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964) is available from: Findlaw Justia
- ATLANTA MOTEL v. UNITED STATES, 379 U.S. 241 (1964), APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA. No. 515. Decided December 14, 1964., retrieved September 5, 2011