United States v. Guest

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Herbert Guest et al.
LOCATION: Where Penn was killed

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)

CITATION: 383 US 745 (1966)
ARGUED: Nov 09, 1965
DECIDED: Mar 28, 1966

Facts of the case

On July 11, 1964 Lt. Col. Lemuel Penn was shot and killed by three members of the Ku Klux Klan while driving home from Washington, D.C. The alleged shooters, James Lackey, Cecil Myers, and Howard Sims, were indicted but acquitted by an all-white jury. Following the acquittal, the three defendants were indicted on charges of conspiracy to threaten, abuse, and kill African- Americans. Three alleged co-conspirators, Denver Phillips, George Turner, and Herbert Guest, were also charged. U.S. Code defines criminal conspiracy as two or more individuals conspiring to "injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States." The indictment filed against the six alleged conspirators accused them of acting to deny African-Americans full and equal enjoyment and utilization of goods and services, including access to state highways and free travel to and from Georgia on public streets. The defendants moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that it did not allege a specific denial of rights under U.S. law. The district court agreed, and dismissed the indictment. The prosecution appealed, arguing that the indictment alleged, in part, a denial of rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Did the alleged actions of the six defendants constitute a denial of rights under the Constitution and U.S. law?

Media for United States v. Guest

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 09, 1965 in United States v. Guest

Earl Warren:

Number 65, United States, Appellant, versus Herbert Guest et al.

Mr. Solicitor General.

Thurgood Marshall:

May it please the Court.

As I mentioned to the Court in this case we are limited again to the allegation indictment and in this indictment it charges six individuals, which engaged in a criminal conspiracy in violation of 241.

None of the defendants in this case were alleged to hold public office, nor any of them alleged to be acting under color of the law.

I think the indictment that very well could be read, because it's very short.

After the beginning thought, the charge is the one that to deny the rights to the foreign equal enjoyment of good services, facilities, privileges, advantages and an accommodations of motion picture theaters, restaurants and other places of public accommodation.

And two, the right to the equal utilization without discrimination upon the basis of race of public facilities in the vicinity of Athens, Georgia, owned, operated or managed by or on behalf of the State of Georgia or any subdivision thereof.

And three, the right to the full and equal use on the same terms as white citizens of the public streets and highways in the vicinity of Athens, Georgia.

Four, the right to travel freely to and from the State of Georgia and to use highway facilities and other instrumentalities of interstate commerce within the State of Georgia, and five, other rights exercised and enjoyed by white citizens in the vicinity of Athens, Georgia.

And I say at this point that the government agrees with everybody else that five adds nothing to the indictment, it could very well be left out.

It was a part of a plan it 's alleged, it was a part of the plan and purpose of the conspiracy that its objects be achieved by various means including the following, shooting Negroes, beating Negroes, killing Negroes, by damaging and destroy property of Negroes, by pursuing Negroes in automobiles and threatening them with guns, by making telephone calls to Negroes to threaten their lives, property, and persons, and by making such threats in person, by going in disguise on the highway and on the premises of other persons, by causing the arrest of Negroes by means of false reports that such Negroes had committed criminal acts, and by burning crosses at night in public view all in violation of 241 and the District Court in a very extended opinion, sustained the motion to dismiss as to all the defendants.

Now it's obvious that the indictment charge is single conspiracy, generally directed at preventing Negroes from exercise and/or enjoying their civil rights.

We take the position that the national government had the power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to authorize punishment of conspiracies having the specific purpose of preventing Negroes from enjoying the public facilities, opened up to them by a state pursuant to Section 1 of the same amendment and that's exactly what the Congress did.

Mr. Justice Holmes 50 years ago said, “The other sections have been repealed speaking of the Ku Klux Klan sections, but Section 19 it maybe said much mean what it meant in 1870 when the enforcement act was passed and what it did mean will be seen more clearly from the original words.

The source of this Section, the doings of the Ku Klux Klan and the like is obvious.

The acts of violence obviously were on the minds of Congress.

Naturally, the Congress put forth all its powers but this section dealt with federal rights and with all federal rights and protected them in the law,” “all of the federal rights and protected them in the law.”

In other words the Congress did the best it could by using the broad language.

Now, the rights here involved are spelled out in the indictment and they fall into three main categories, first, rights grounded in the Equal Protection Clause, specifically the right to the equal utilization without discrimination upon the basis of race of all public utilities owned, operated or managed by the state including the streets and highways et cetera.

Secondly, the right to travel freely to and from any state and the right to use its instrumentalities of interstate commerce, three, the right to equal advantages of restaurants, motion picture theaters and other privately owned places of public accommodation guaranteed by Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The right to the nondiscriminatory use of public facilities owned or operated by the state itself is one grounded in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

And again in the light of, I have here United States v. Williams but I should add, in the light of the opinion of Mr. Justice Douglas in United States versus Williams, the threshold question with respect to this branch of the case is whether Section 241 protects Fourteenth Amendment rights at all.

The District Judge said no.

For an affirmative answer on the issue we rely upon the brief in the case we've just argued, but in addition we say, “Following the legislative history, we show and operate that Section 241 was meant to reach private individuals acting in conspiracy and once you apply the strict requirements of the Screws case we urged that so construed the statute is not impermissibly vague.”

The heart of the case is easily laid bare.

Appellees are charged with the conspiracy to use force and violence for this specific purpose of preventing Negroes from daring to use the park, swimming pools, other facilities which the state of Georgia had a constitutional duty and was prepared to afford them equally with its white citizens.

The identical situation might well arise with respect to schools.

If a state maintains a public school system it must open the door to Negroes within the area it serves as well as the white people.

For the school authorities, the bar [Inaudible] because the race is a plain violation of Fourteenth Amendment.