LOCATION: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
DOCKET NO.: 107
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
CITATION: 376 US 681 (1964)
ARGUED: Oct 21, 1963 / Oct 22, 1963
DECIDED: Apr 06, 1964
Facts of the case
Media for United States v. BarnettAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 22, 1963 in United States v. Barnett
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 21, 1963 in United States v. Barnett
Number 107, United States, Petitioner, versus Ross R. Barnett et al.
Mr. Solicitor General.
Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.
This case is here on certificate from the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
I shall present the opening argument on behalf of the Untied States and Mr. Leon Jaworski, who was the counsel in the court below by special appointment, will make any rebuttal.
The question presented is whether the defendants were charged with criminal contempt of court or intentional violation of an order of the Court of Appeals, are entitled to trial by jury.
Defendants claim a jury on two grounds.
By statute, under the provisions of the United States Code that provides for the trial of certain contempt charges by jury when the contemptuous acts are also crimes, and second by the Constitution.
Our answer to the statutory claim will be that it is effective for two independently sufficient reasons because the statute by its terms is applicable only to contempt to an order of a District Court and this was an order of a Court of Appeals, and second because the statute expressly accepts charges of violation of an order entered in an action maintained by the United States, and this in our view was such an action.
Our answer to the constitutional claim is that the trial of contempt charges by the Court for the charges violation of the Court's order addressed to the -- to a party, has been in the established part of our constitutional law since the founding of republic.
The legal issues arise because the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor of the State sought to arise -- to have array the whole colloquy of the State against a final adjudication by the federal court.
The contempt with which they are charged caused rioting, loss of life and the need for federal troops to uphold the law of the land on the campus of the University of Mississippi.
We're not concerned here with the details of those tragic events, but a careful understanding of the incidents leading up to the entry of the order in precedent and to its violation is essential to understand both how the United States came to seek this order and also why it was entered by a Court of Appeals rather than a District Court.
For that reason, I want to take some little time carefully to state the sequence of events leading up to the order.
In January, 1961, James Meredith applied --
William J. Brennan, Jr.:
I missed you Mr. Solicitor General, for what reason are you going to go into this?
Because I think I'm concentrating on the facts insofar as they show first, how it came to be that the United States sought this order for violation of which United -- Barnett is charged with contempt and second, how the order it came to be made by a Court of Appeals rather than by a District Court.
I think that both of those becoming important in the discussion of the legal argument, but I shall try to confine myself to the facts so far as a deal with that did not go into the extraneous events.
In January, 1961, as I have said, James Meredith applied for admission to the University of Mississippi at a term beginning in February.
In May, after a long delay in getting any answer from the University and a final rejection, he filed a complaint in the District Court alleging that he was the victim of racial discrimination.
The case then wound its way through the courts including a four-month delay by the District Court in acting upon a motion for interlocutory relief, preliminary relief after the hearing on that motion had been completed.
On June 25th, 1962, the Court of Appeals handed down an opinion, finding that Meredith had been the victim of racial discrimination and directing the entry of an injunction requiring the University officials to admit Meredith.
The mandate issued in due course on the 17th of July.
On July 18, Circuit Judge Cameron, who had not been a member of the panel, issued a stay of the mandate that had already in fact gone down.
The panel of the three judges who had heard the case then invited briefs from the parties on the question of the stay and later filed on July 27 an opinion vacating the order of Judge Cameron.
The panel also recalled the mandate and amended it to set forth specifically the exact terms of the injunction to be entered by the District Court requiring Meredith's admission to the University.
In addition, the Court of Appeals issued its own injunction requiring the trustees and University officials to admit Meredith and to refrain from discrimination and respect to his continued dependence.
Twice more than Judge Cameron issued a stay and as many times, they were vacated by the panel, but he issued a third stay.
The private plaintiff brought the case here.
Justice Black vacated all the stays and on September 13, 1962, the District Court finally entered an injunction in accordance with the mandate of the Court of Appeals.