Patterson v. McLean Credit Union

RESPONDENT: McLean Credit Union
LOCATION: McLean Credit Union

DOCKET NO.: 87-107
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 485 US 617 (1988)
DECIDED: Jun 15, 1989
ARGUED: Feb 29, 1988
REARGUED: Oct 12, 1988

Facts of the case


Media for Patterson v. McLean Credit Union

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 29, 1988 in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 12, 1988 in Patterson v. McLean Credit Union

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 87-107, Brenda Patterson v. McLean Credit Union.

Mr. Chambers, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Julius LeVonne Chambers:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

The Court's order of April 25, 1988 directed that the parties address the issue of whether the Court should reconsider its decision in Runyon v. McCrary.

Runyon held that 42 U.S.C. 1981 applies to private contractual relations and in that case prohibited a private school from discriminating on the basis of race in its admission practices.

I will first show that the doctrines of congressional ratification and stare decisis preclude reconsideration of Runyon.

I will then demonstrate in the remaining half of my argument that Runyon was correctly decided.

Thus, even if the Court decides to revisit Runyon, I submit that Runyon was correctly decided and should be reaffirmed.

Congressional ratification and stare decisis, as adopted and applied by this Court, require that Runyon be followed and not reversed.

Runyon and Section 1981 have become a significant part of the web of joint congressional and judicial efforts to rid the country of public and private discrimination.

Reversing Runyon under these circumstances would not only reject congressional reliance and decisions of the Court but legislation specifically designed by Congress incorporating the Court's decision and attempting to encourage the use and enforcement of Section 1981.

It would virtually abandon stare decisis as a fundamental doctrine of a court.

Legislative efforts of Congress since Runyon and its precursor, Jones v. Mayer, show a consistent pattern of congressional adoption and ratification of the Court's holdings that Section 1981 prohibits public and private discrimination in contractual dealings.

Three months after the decision in Runyon, Congress passed a law providing attorney fees to encourage enforcement or use of Section 1981.

The Attorney Fees Act is highly significant.

It is not simply that the Congress was aware of Runyon.

It is not merely that the Attorney Fees Act shows that Congress approved of Runyon.

Both points are true, but there's more.

Runyon and Jones were the foundation building blocks for the Attorney Fees Act and its applicability to Section 1981.

Congress built on Runyon by passing a law that would have made no sense had Runyon not been decided.

That is true because Runyon and Jones held that Sections 1981 and 1982 permitted an individual to use those acts to challenge private discrimination.

If Jones and Runyon are now reversed, there would be no basis for lawsuits based on Section 1981 and 1982 in which attorney fees could be awarded if one is successful.

The Fees Act applies the private attorney general theory under which Congress encouraged private attorneys to use civil rights statutes to vindicate a policy of Congress by providing a fee for litigants who bring Jones and Runyon types of proceedings.

Congress asserted that the people who litigate those claims vindicated congressional policy and Congress wanted--

William H. Rehnquist:

But the fee-setting, Mr. Chambers... you would still have been able to recover against public bodies in a suit under 1981, wouldn't you?

Julius LeVonne Chambers:

--That's correct, Your Honor, but we also would have been able to recover under 1983.

And what Congress was doing was building on the Court's decisions in Runyon and Jones which permitted one to challenge private discrimination.

And without Runyon and without Jones, 1981 and 1982 would be of little value at all.

So, Congress noted that one could recover under 1983 in challenging public bodies, and it wanted to encourage the use of 1981 and 1982 to encourage lawsuits challenging private discrimination.

This is of direct congressional endorsement and ratification of Runyon and Jones.