United States v. Johnson

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Formerly Sam’s Stationery and Luncheonette

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 390 US 563 (1968)
ARGUED: Mar 14, 1968
DECIDED: Apr 08, 1968

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Johnson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 14, 1968 in United States v. Johnson

Earl Warren:

Number 482, United States, Appellant, versus Horace Johnson et al.

Mr. Spritzer.

Ralph S. Spritzer:

Mr. Chief Justice, Your Honors.

This case comes here by direct appeal under the Criminal Appeals Act seeking reinstatement of an indictment which was brought under Section 241 of the criminal code.

That Section which as Your Honors know was inspired originally by the activities of the Ku Klux Klan and it dates back to 1870, punishes any conspiracy to injure, intimidate or oppress a citizen because of his exercise of any right or privilege secured to him by the constitution or by the laws of the United States.

The indictment here charged that the four appellees had conspired to injure and intimidate three Negro citizens because the latter had exercised their rights guaranteed by the public accommodations title of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to patronize a roadside restaurant.

The District Court for the Northern District of Georgia concluded that the provisions for injunctive relief which appear in that 1964 Act constitute the exclusive means of dealing with a violation of the public accommodations law, and that those provisions preclude a federal criminal prosecution.

It accordingly dismissed the indictment.

Since this case has not gone to trial, the facts have not been fully developed.

I think it suffices to say that the basis of the prosecution is that the appellees, persons wholly unconnected with the restaurant or truck stop where this incident occurred severely attacked and beat the Negro travelers in question.

After those travelers had sought and obtained service and were returning from the restaurant to their parked automobile.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Mr. Spritzer, would the bill that just passed the Senate, without question, cover this?

Ralph S. Spritzer:


It would cover much more of course --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Yes but it would reach --

Ralph S. Spritzer:

-- but it would cover an injury by a single person as well as a conspiracy and many other types of interference of course.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But there's no question it does reach this instance?

Ralph S. Spritzer:

None whatever, no question, whatever.

The indictment alleges that the plan and purpose of the conspiracy of the appellees were to dissuade these travelers and other Negroes from seeking service at the establishment on the same basis as white citizens.

The District Court recognized as indeed this Court's decisions require that Section 241 protects all federal rights derived directly from the constitution or created by Acts of Congress.

And that the instant prosecution has a clear statutory basis, unless the public accommodations law itself manifests an unmistakable purpose to exclude the rights created by that law from the protection of the criminal law.

The District Court concluded that the public accommodations law does gives in to that purpose.

Although we recognize full well that the matter of accommodating the statutes is one not free from difficulty.

We urge that Section 241 has not been excluded from its historic role in the circumstances of this case for reasons which I shall develop in analyzing the public accommodations law.

The principle circumstance which I have in mind is that this case does not involve a charge that a proprietor denied service which he was under a duty to accord, but rather a charge that a group of outsiders committed a punitive assault upon persons who had asserted their federal right to seek and obtain such service.

Now Title 2 of the Public Accommodations Act, Section 201 begins with the declaration that all persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of places defined in the Act as places of public accommodation without discrimination or segregation.

There's no question as this case comes here that the facilities involved constituted a covered establishment.

It is also settled of course, notably by this Court's Atlanta Motel decision that Title 2 is a valid implementation of the commerce power.

As I mentioned earlier, the only real question is whether the public accommodations law itself shows a design to confine federal proceedings involving an assault upon the right to public accommodations to actions for injunctive relief.

And that of course requires a further examination of the act scheme.