Bouie v. City of Columbia

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Bouie v. City of Columbia
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 14 – October 15, 1963
Decided June 22, 1964
Full case name Simon Bouie and Talmadge J. Neal v. City of Columbia
Citations 378 U.S. 347 (more)
84 S. Ct. 1697, 12 L. Ed.2d 894 (1964)
Prior history 239 S.C. 570, 124 S.E.2d 332 (1962), upholding conviction for trespass
The State Supreme Court, in giving retroactive application to its new construction of the statute, deprived petitioners of their right to fair warning of a criminal prohibition, and thus violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Brennan, joined by Clark, Stewart, Warren
Concurrence Goldberg, joined by Warren
Concurrence Douglas
Dissent Black, joined by Harlan, White
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Bouie v. City of Columbia, 378 U.S. 347 (1964),[1] was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that due process prohibits retroactive application of any judicial construction of a criminal statute that is unexpected and indefensible by reference to the law which has been expressed prior to the conduct in issue. This holding is based on the Fourteenth Amendment prohibition by the Due Process Clause against ex post facto laws.


On March 14, 1960, two African American students from Allen University conducted a sit-in demonstration by sitting down at a booth at the lunch counter restaurant in an Eckerd's drug store in Columbia, South Carolina. Policy at the store was to allow African Americans to shop anywhere in the store and to use any facilities with the exception of being served at the restaurant. After they sat down, an employee put up a "no trespassing sign," and the two students were asked to leave. The students were arrested on charges of breach of the peace and criminal trespass, but convicted only for trespass in violation of the state code. The trespass convictions were upheld by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Court's Decision[edit]

The majority opinion by Justice Brennan noted that the South Carolina trespass statute criminalized entry upon the lands of another after notice from an owner or tenant prohibiting such entry. The South Carolina Supreme Court, in upholding the convictions, had construed the statute as also covering the act of remaining on the premises of another after receiving notice to leave, a construction adopted in another case in 1961 and applied here. The Court stated that a judicial construction that has the effect of broadening the activities that constitute a crime and is applied retroactively operates precisely like an ex post facto law. As ex post facto application of criminal statutes violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court reversed the convictions.

The concurring opinions of Justice Goldberg and Justice Douglas simply stated that they would reverse based upon their opinions in Bell v. Maryland, 378 U.S. 226 (1964), another case involving a sit-in demonstration by African American students that was announced the same day as the Bouie decision. The dissenting opinion by Justice Black argued that the conduct of remaining after being told to leave was understood to violate the South Carolina trespass statute, and the opinion in the Bell case that the Fourteenth Amendment did not require an owner of a restaurant to serve customers the owner did not want to serve.

Critical response[edit]

Bouie v. City of Columbia was one of five cases involving segregation protests decided on June 22, 1964. The other four cases were Griffin v. Maryland, 378 U.S. 130 (1964), Barr v. City of Columbia, 378 U.S. 146 (1964), Robinson v. Florida, 378 U.S. 153 (1964), and Bell v. Maryland. In none of these cases did the Supreme Court reach the merits of any argument addressing whether private actions of segregation which are enforced by state courts constituted a state action which violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[2] These decisions were announced two days after the Senate ended a filibuster and passed the bill which would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[2] which outlawed segregation in public accommodations. It has been suggested that the Supreme Court refrained from reaching the merits in these cases in consideration of the Act; had it done so, it would have eliminated the basis for passage of the legislation.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Text of Bouie v. City of Columbia, 378 U.S. 347 (1964) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia 
  2. ^ a b c Webster, McKenzie. "The Warren Court's Struggle With the Sit-In Cases and the Constitutionality of Segregation in Places of Public Accommodations". Journal of Law and Politics. 17 (Spring 2001): 373–407.