Runyon v. McCrary

Facts of the Case

Parents of black children who were excluded from Virginia private schools solely on racial grounds sued the schools’ proprietors in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for declaratory and injunctive relief and damages on the ground that the schools’ conduct violated 42 USCS 1981, which guaranteed Negroes the same right to make and enforce contracts as was enjoyed by white citizens. The District Court granted injunctive relief, and awarded compensatory damages to some of the plaintiffs, but it denied such relief to other plaintiffs as time-barred under the Virginia 2-year statute of limitations governing personal injury claims, and assessed attorneys’ fees against the schools. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed as to the grant of injunctive and compensatory relief, and as to the limitations, but reversed the award of attorneys’ fees. The private schools appealed.


(1) Were the schools’ admission policies in violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1981?(2) Did 42 U.S.C. Section 1981 violate the Constitutional right to privacy and free association?


Yes and no. In a 6-2 opinion, the Court held that Section 1981 prohibited the racially discriminatory policies of the schools. While the schools were private, Jones v. Alfred Meyer Co. held that Section 1981 applied to purely private acts of racial discrimination. Writing for the majority, Justice Potter Stewart described the school’s admission policies as classical violation[s] of Section 1981. While the Court acknowledged the right to free association of parents to send their children to schools that promote the belief that racial segregation is desirable, it was not entitled the constitutional protection. Additionally, the Court cited Pierce v. Society of Sisters and the right of the State reasonably to regulate all schools.

Case Information

  • Citation: 427 US 160 (1976)
  • Argued: Apr 26, 1976
  • Decided Jun 25, 1976