Runyon v. McCrary

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Runyon v. McCrary
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued April 26, 1976
Decided June 25, 1976
Full case name Runyon, et ux., dba Bobbe's School v. McCrary, et al.
Citations 427 U.S. 160 (more)
Federal law prohibits private schools from discriminating on the basis of race.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Stewart, joined by Burger, Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Stevens
Concurrence Powell
Concurrence Stevens
Dissent White, joined by Rehnquist
Laws applied
Reconstruction Civil Rights Acts (42 USC 1981)
Education in the United States
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Flag of the United States.svg United States portal

Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160 (1976), was a case heard before the United States Supreme Court, which held that federal law prohibited private schools from discriminating on the basis of race. Dissenting Justice Byron White argued that the legislative history of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (popularly known as the "Ku Klux Klan Act") indicated that the Act was not designed to prohibit private racial discrimination, but only state-sponsored racial discrimination (as had been held in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883).


Two African American students filed suit believing that they were denied admission to private schools based on their race. Michael McCrary and Colin Gonzales were denied admission to Bobbe's School; Gonzales was also denied admission to Fairfax-Brewster School. A class action lawsuit was filed, by the parents on behalf of the students, against the schools. A federal district court ruled for McCrary and Gonzales, finding that the school's admission policies were racially discriminatory. The United States Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

Questions before the Court[edit]

1. Were the admission policies of the private schools in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1981?

2. Did the Ku Klux Klan Act violate the Constitutional right to privacy and free association?

Decision of the Supreme Court[edit]

In a 7-2 decision Justice Stewart wrote the opinion for the Court. The Court determined that The Ku Klux Klan Act prohibited the racially discriminatory policies of the schools. While the schools were private, Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. held that the Ku Klux Klan Act applied to "purely private acts of racial discrimination." Further, Stewart wrote that the school's admission policies were "classical violation[s] of Section 1981." The Court acknowledged that parents had the right to send their children to schools that "promote the belief [of] racial segregation," but that right was not protected by the Constitution. The Court cited Pierce v. Society of Sisters and the right of the State "reasonably to regulate all schools" to further justify the decision.[1]

Dissenting Opinion[edit]

Justice White was concerned about the potential far-reaching impact of holding private racial discrimination illegal, which, if taken to its logical conclusion, might ban many varied forms of voluntary self-segregation, including social and advocacy groups that limited their membership to blacks.[2]

Runyon's holding was severely limited by Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U.S. 164 (1989), which narrowly construed Section 1981 not to apply to any discrimination occurring after the making of a contract, such as racial harassment on the job (although the Patterson majority expressly claimed that they were not overruling Runyon). In turn, Patterson was legislatively overruled by the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Runyon v. McCrary 427 U.S. 160 (1976)". The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  2. ^ See 427 U.S. 212 (White, J., dissenting): "Whether such conduct should be condoned or not, whites and blacks will undoubtedly choose to form a variety of associational relationships pursuant to contracts which exclude members of the other race. Social clubs, black and white, and associations designed to further the interests of blacks or whites are but two examples."

Further reading[edit]

  • Bogdanski, John A. (1977). "Section 1981 and the Thirteenth Amendment after Runyon v. McCrary. On the Doorsteps of Discriminatory Private Clubs". Stanford Law Review. Stanford Law Review, Vol. 29, No. 4. 29 (4): 747–793. doi:10.2307/1228260. JSTOR 1228260. 

External links[edit]