Case: Katzenbach v. McClung

64-cv-00448 | U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama

Filed Date: July 31, 1964

Closed Date: Dec. 14, 1964

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Case Summary

This lawsuit is about the scope of the federal government's power to prohibit race discrimination by private entities. It involved Ollie's, a Birmingham, AL restaurant that refused to provide sit-in dining to Black customers (Montgomery Advertiser, Dec. 17, 1964). On July 31, 1964, the owners sued the Attorney General of the United States in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama to prevent enforcement against them of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibi…

This lawsuit is about the scope of the federal government's power to prohibit race discrimination by private entities. It involved Ollie's, a Birmingham, AL restaurant that refused to provide sit-in dining to Black customers (Montgomery Advertiser, Dec. 17, 1964). On July 31, 1964, the owners sued the Attorney General of the United States in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama to prevent enforcement against them of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits providers of public accommodations from discriminating based on race. They argued that Title II was unconstitutional as applied to them as beyond Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce and sought injunctive relief.

At first, the United States argued that Title II did not apply to Ollie's because Ollie's did not advertise to or frequently serve interstate travelers. But the court (a three-judge panel consisting of Judges Gewin, Lynne, and Grooms) found that the government intended “to enforce the provisions of title II against its violators” and ruled that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional. The court found that there were only three possible sources for Congressional power to sustain the Act: the Thirteenth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Commerce Clause. The defendants did not attempt to defend the law under the Thirteenth Amendment, and the court ruled that the Civil Rights Act could not be applied under the Fourteenth Amendment because the State of Alabama was not involved directly. The court also held that the Commerce Clause was insufficient justification, because to find interstate commerce here would be to find it everywhere, and thus, subject everything to congressional power under the Commerce Clause. Instead, the court found that the law was invalid and enjoined it on September 17, 1964. 233 F. Supp. 815.

The defendants appealed the same day, and the case went up to the Supreme Court. Justice Hugo Black, a Birmingham native and former member of the Ku Klux Klan, entered an order staying the judgement. (That displeased his wife, who regularly dined at Ollie's.)

The Supreme Court ultimately held that Ollie's discriminatory practices affected interstate commerce by reducing spending and interstate travel by Black persons, and by deterring highly skilled people from moving into areas with more discrimination, thus restricting the growth of industry there. As a result, application of Title II to Ollie's was within Congress's commerce power. So, the Court reversed the judgment below. 379 U.S. 294. The Court decided this case at the same time it decided Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, which raised the similar issue of discrimination by hotels. 379 U.S. 241.

For more information on the Supreme Court's deliberations in this case, including draft opinions and letters between the Justices, see here.

Soon after the Supreme Court's decision was announced, five Black customers walked into the restaurant and were served (Time Magazine Dec. 1964).

Summary Authors

Samuel Poortenga (4/7/2021)

Related Cases

Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, Northern District of Georgia (1964)

People


Judge(s)

Black, Hugo Lafayette (District of Columbia)

Brennan, William Joseph Jr. (District of Columbia)

Clark, Tom C. (District of Columbia)

Douglas, William Orville (District of Columbia)

Gewin, Walter Pettus (Alabama)

Goldberg, Arthur Joseph (District of Columbia)

Grooms, Harlan Hobart (Alabama)

Harlan [elder], John Marshall (District of Columbia)

Lynne, Seybourn Harris (Alabama)

Stewart, Potter (District of Columbia)

Judge(s)

Black, Hugo Lafayette (District of Columbia)

Brennan, William Joseph Jr. (District of Columbia)

Clark, Tom C. (District of Columbia)

Douglas, William Orville (District of Columbia)

Gewin, Walter Pettus (Alabama)

Goldberg, Arthur Joseph (District of Columbia)

Grooms, Harlan Hobart (Alabama)

Harlan [elder], John Marshall (District of Columbia)

Lynne, Seybourn Harris (Alabama)

Stewart, Potter (District of Columbia)

Warren, Earl (District of Columbia)

White, Byron Raymond (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Choppin, Gerald P. (District of Columbia)

Cox, Archibald (District of Columbia)

Greene, Harold H. (District of Columbia)

Marer, Alan G. (District of Columbia)

Marshall, Burke (District of Columbia)

Moody, Ralph (North Carolina)

Spritzer, Ralph S. (District of Columbia)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Faulkner, James H. (Alabama)

Heymann, Philip (District of Columbia)

Smith, Robert Mcd (North Carolina)

Somerville, William G (Alabama)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Bruton, T W (North Carolina)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Opinion

233 F.Supp. 815

Sept. 17, 1964 Order/Opinion

Brief for the Appellants

Supreme Court of the United States

Oct. 1, 1964 Pleading / Motion / Brief

[Supreme Court] Opinion

Supreme Court of the United States

379 U.S. 294

Dec. 14, 1964 Order/Opinion

Brief for Appellees

Supreme Court of the United States

None Pleading / Motion / Brief

Amicus Curiae Brief of the State of North Carolina

Supreme Court of the United States

None Pleading / Motion / Brief

Resources

Title Description External URL

Case Summary (Katzenbach v. McClung)

Tarlton Law Library

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade racial discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodation engaged in interstate commerce. Ollie McClung, the … Nov. 30, 1964 https://tarlton.law.utexas.edu/clark/katzenbach-v-mcclung

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Alabama

Case Type(s):

Public Accommodations/Contracting

Special Collection(s):

Civil Rights Division Archival Collection

Key Dates

Filing Date: July 31, 1964

Closing Date: Dec. 14, 1964

Case Ongoing: No

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

Restaurant owner who was discriminating against Black customers.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Public Interest Lawyer: No

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Nicholas Katzenbach, Federal

Case Details

Causes of Action:

Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201

Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)

Constitutional Clause(s):

Commerce Power

Due Process

Equal Protection

Slavery/Involuntary servitude

Availably Documents:

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

U.S. Supreme Court merits opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Defendant

Nature of Relief:

None

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Issues

General:

Access to public accommodations - privately owned

Disparate Treatment

Racial segregation

Retail Shopping

Discrimination-basis:

Race discrimination

Race:

Black

Type of Facility:

Non-government for profit