October 5, 1964: Heart of Atlanta Motel asked Supreme Court for right to discriminate

October 5, 2015

PG posted this photo in one of his collections at Chamblee54:

Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1956 - Special Collections and Archives,Georgia State University Library

Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1956 – Special Collections and Archives,Georgia State University Library

I wondered whether this is the motel in the case testing the 1964 Civil Rights Act — and sure enough, it is.  The case was decided, finally, by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1964, Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc., v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964) .

This important case represented an immediate challenge to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark piece of civil rights legislation which represented the first comprehensive act by Congress on civil rights and race relations since the Civil Rights Act of 1875. For much of the 100 years preceding 1964, race relations in the United States had been dominated by segregation, a system of racial separation which, while in name providing for “separate but equal” treatment of both white and black Americans, in truth perpetuated inferior accommodation, services, and treatment for black Americans.

During the mid-20th century, partly as a result of cases such as Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932); Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649 (1944); Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1 (1948); Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950); McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, 339 U.S. 637 (1950); NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958); Boynton v. Virginia, 364 U.S. 454 (1960) and probably the most famous, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), the tide against segregation began to turn. However, segregation remained in full effect into the 1960s in parts of the southern United States, where the Heart of Atlanta Motel was located, despite these decisions.

The Atlanta Time Machine, a great collection of photos in the history of Atlanta and Georgia, has more photos, and this description of the site:

The Heart of Atlanta motel, located at 255 Courtland Street NE, was owned by Atlanta attorney Moreton Rolleston Jr.  Rolleston, a committed segregationist, refused to rent rooms at his hotel to black customers.  Upon passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Rolleston immediately filed suit in federal court to assert that the law was the result of an overly broad interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause.  Rolleston represented himself in the case, HEART OF ATLANTA MOTEL, INC. v. UNITED STATES ET AL., which  went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.  Rolleston lost when the Supreme Court ruled that Congress was well within its powers to regulate interstate commerce in such a manner.  The Hilton Hotel now stands on the former site of the Heart of Atlanta Motel.

Texts in law school rarely have illustrations.  I know the motel mostly as a citation on pages of text, great grey oceans of somnambulent text.  This case is important in civil rights, though it is mentioned almost never in history texts.  What are these cases really about?  These photos offer us insight.

The Heart of Atlanta Motel aspired to greatness in the late 1950s and 1960s — evidenced by this publicity flyer photo from the Atlanta Time Machine; notice the flag flying for the motel’s Seahorse Lounge (Atlanta is landlocked):

Heart of Atlanta Motel publicity photo - Atlanta Time Machine

Heart of Atlanta Motel publicity photo – Atlanta Time Machine; not just a podunk “motor lodge,” but a “resort motel.”  Click for larger image.

For the 1960s, this place offered great amenities, including two swimming pools and in-room breakfast service.

Flyer for the Heart of Atlanta Motel, circa 1960 - Atlanta Time Machine image

Flyer for the Heart of Atlanta Motel, circa 1960 – Atlanta Time Machine image

This photo is amusing — I can just imagine the difficulties of launching a motor boat of this size in one of the swimming pools, obviously for a publicity stunt.  The photo is dated February 27, 1960, in the Pullen Library Collection.

Boat in the pool at the Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1960 - Atlanta Time Machine image

Boat in the pool at the Heart of Atlanta Motel, 1960 – Atlanta Time Machine image

To compare how times have changed, you may want to look at this aerial photo of the area, including the Heart of Atlanta Hotel, and compare it with modern photos which show the Hilton Hotel that replaced the property.

Rolleston appears to have had a big ego.  As noted above, he represented himself in this case, and he argued it in the Supreme Court.  Here’s a picture from about that time, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School “Famous Trials” site:

Moreton Rolleston, Jr., owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel and the attorney who argued the case at the Supreme Court - UMKC Law School image

Moreton Rolleston, Jr., owner of the Heart of Atlanta Motel and the attorney who argued the case at the Supreme Court – UMKC Law School image; photo: Wayne Wilson/Leviton-Atlanta

You may decide for yourself whether this fits the old legal aphorism that a lawyer who represents himself in a case has a fool for a client.  The Oyez site at the University of Chicago provides access to the audio of the oral arguments.  Did Rolleston argue ably?  Rolleston argued against Archibald Cox, who went on to fame in the Watergate scandals.  This appears to have been Rolleston’s only appearance before the Supreme Court; it was Cox’s ninth appearance (he argued 20 cases before the Court in his career, several well known and notable ones).

Heart of Atlanta vs. United States was argued on October 5, 1964The opinion was issued on December 14, 1964, a 9-0 decision against Rolleston and segregation authored by Justice Tom C. Clark (one of Dallas’s earliest Eagle Scouts).

This was a fight Mr. Rolleston picked.  He was not cited nor indicted for violation of the Civil Rights Act, but instead asked for an injunction to prevent the law’s enforcement; according to the published decision,

Appellant, the owner of a large motel in Atlanta, Georgia, which restricts its clientele to white persons, three-fourths of whom are transient interstate travelers, sued for declaratory relief and to enjoin enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, contending that the prohibition of racial discrimination in places of public accommodation affecting commerce exceeded Congress’ powers under the Commerce Clause and violated other parts of the Constitution. A three-judge District Court upheld the constitutionality of Title II, §§ 201(a), (b)(1) and (c)(1), the provisions attacked, and, on appellees’ counterclaim, permanently enjoined appellant from refusing to accommodate Negro guests for racial reasons.

Oyez summarizes the case question:

Facts of the Case 

Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade racial discrimination by places of public accommodation if their operations affected commerce. The Heart of Atlanta Motel in Atlanta, Georgia, refused to accept Black Americans and was charged with violating Title II.


Did Congress, in passing Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, exceed its Commerce Clause powers by depriving motels, such as the Heart of Atlanta, of the right to choose their own customers?

The decision turned on the commerce clause, and the reach of Congressional power to regulate interstate commerce.

Decision: 9 votes for U.S., 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title II

The Court held that the Commerce Clause allowed Congress to regulate local incidents of commerce, and that the Civil Right Act of 1964 passed constitutional muster. The Court noted that the applicability of Title II was “carefully limited to enterprises having a direct and substantial relation to the interstate flow of goods and people. . .” The Court thus concluded that places of public accommodation had no “right” to select guests as they saw fit, free from governmental regulation.

Good decision. As my law professors described it, Americans enjoy the right to travel, a penumbral right of the Constitution. Inherent in that right is the right to rest in a hotel or motel at the end of the day, especially along a federally-funded highway, part of the U.S. Highway system or National Defense Interstate Highway System.

Heart of Atlanta Motel is gone.  The site is occupied by the Hilton Atlanta, today.

Interstate travel, and sleeping in hotels, continues.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Key part of Burwell decision: “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets”

June 25, 2015

U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell.  The decision issued on June 25, 2015. Image from Newsworks (who is the artist?)

U.S. Supreme Court hearing oral arguments in King v. Burwell. The decision issued on June 25, 2015. Image from Newsworks. [Continued search for credit information on this image turned up this caption; artist is Dana Verkouteren of Associated Press] “This courtroom artist rendering shows Michael Carvin, lead attorney for the petitioners, right, speaking before the Supreme Court in March. King v. Burwell, a major test of the Affordable Care Act, could halt health care premium subsidies in all the states where the federal government runs the insurance marketplaces. (AP Photo/Dana Verkouteren)

In all the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Burwell case today, you’d be lucky to learn what the Court actually said.

Here are the key paragraphs of the majority’s decision (links added here), as written by Chief Justice John Roberts:

Reliance on context and structure in statutory interpretation is a “subtle business, calling for great wariness lest what professes to be mere rendering becomes creation and attempted interpretation of legislation becomes legislation itself.” Palmer v. Massachusetts, 308 U. S. 79, 83 (1939). For the reasons we have given, however, such reliance is appropriate in this case, and leads us to conclude that Section 36B allows tax credits for insurance purchased on any Exchange created under the Act. Those credits are necessary for the Federal Exchanges to function like their State Exchange counterparts, and to avoid the type of calamitous result that Congress plainly meant to avoid.

*    *    *

In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined—“to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177 (1803). That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan.

Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter. Section 36B can fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt.

The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is


Go read the rest of the 47 pages (in the .pdf from the Supreme Court), if you wish to be well-informed.  The case probably isn’t at all what’s being reported in most venues.

Quote of the moment: Frankfurter, on due process

July 9, 2014

Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: Gardener Cox).  Born Vienna, Austria, 1894. Died 1965.

Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: Gardener Cox). Born Vienna, Austria, 1894. Died 1965. Associate Justice, 1939-1962

It is now the settled doctrine of this Court that the Due Process Clause embodies a system of rights based on moral principles so deeply imbedded in the traditions and feelings of our people as to be deemed fundamental to a civilized society as conceived by our whole history. Due Process is that which comports with the deepest notions of what is fair and right and just.

♦  Justice Felix Franfurter, dissenting in
Solesbee v. Balkcom, 339 U.S. 9, 16 (1950)

“Some there are”: Antonin Scalia, rock music, and high school graduation in churches

June 17, 2014

Some there are—many, perhaps—who are offended by public displays of religion. Religion, they believe, is a personal matter; if it must be given external manifestation, that should not occur in public places where others may be offended. I can understand that attitude: It parallels my own toward the playing in public of rock music or Stravinsky. And I too am especially annoyed when the intrusion upon my inner peace occurs while I am part of a captive audience, as on a municipal bus or in the waiting room of a public agency.

Justice Antonin Scalia, dissenting to the Supreme Court’s denying to hear a case about high school graduations held in religious facilities, the denial of the writ of certiorari to Elmbrook vs. John Doe et al., 573 U.S. ______.

Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia in the dissent.

But, he argues, religion is protected by the First Amendment, our music choices are not.

Read the dissent (way down at the bottom).

Easter services at Elmbrook Church, in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Easter services at Elmbrook Church, in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

I suppose to some, high school graduation ceremonies are a lot like being forced to listen to rap music at intersections.  To others, high school graduations may seem akin to religious experience.  Not sure either view means the ceremonies should be held in churches.

This case is 14 years in the justice system.


“A day that will live in glory” — Frankfurter to Warren, on Brown v. Board

May 17, 2014

Read the rest of this entry »

Quote of the moment: Potter Stewart, on the freedom to procreate without government intrusion

August 31, 2013

Justice Potter Stewart, official portrait in the U.S. Supreme Court. Artist: Ruth A. Nestor Hamilton. Oyez image.

Justice Potter Stewart, official portrait in the U.S. Supreme Court. Artist: Ruth A. Nestor Hamilton. Oyez image.

Several decisions of this Court make clear that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. […] As recently as last Term, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U. S. 438, 405 U. S. 453, we recognized “the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” That right necessarily includes the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.

Potter Stewart (1915-1985) US Supreme Court Justice (1959-81)
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 169-170 (1973) [Concurring]

Links added here, except “Source.”  Handing the scrub brush to WIST, so WIST may tip it to itself.

Old and Wise? Stones older than Supreme Court

December 8, 2012

Some wag at Associated Press noticed recently that the Rolling Stones’ average age puts them older than the U.S. Supreme Court.  (Did some one notice this before AP?)  Franklin Roosevelt criticized the Court as “nine old men.”  Women have improved the Court, but age sometimes makes us wonder, still, if new ideas wouldn’t help.

Rolling Stones in 2012, 50th anniversary

Left to right, Charlie Watts, Keith Richard, Ron Wood and Mick Jagger; Bill Wyman absent from this photo; Rolling Stones, 50th Anniversary Tour 2012 – Samir Hussein photo WireImage, via Rolling Stone magazine. Other than no ties, they dress not-too flamboyantly.

Maybe we should wonder about increasing the wisdom that comes with age:

Rolling Stones:

Mick Jagger, 69

Keith Richards, 68

Charlie Watts, 71

Ronnie Wood, 65

Bill Wyman (rejoining them on tour), 76

Average age:  69.8 years (calculated from whole years only)

U.S. Supreme Court:

Antonin Scalia, 76

Anthony Kennedy, 76

Clarence Thomas, 64

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 79

Stephen Breyer, 74

John G. Roberts, 57

Samuel A. Alito, Jr., 62

Sonia Sotomayor, 58

Elena Kagan, 52

Average age:  68.4 years

U.S. Supreme Court, Roberts Court 2010 – Back row (left to right): Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito, and Elena Kagan. Front row (left to right): Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Wikimedia image. This bunch wears less colorful, but sillier costumes. Justice Ginsburg tends to favor neckwear the same way Keith Richards does; what else might they have in common?

A wise-beyond-his-teen-years camper at Camp Rising Sun of the Louis August Jonas Foundation, in the 1960s or early 1970s, observed, “You cannot be both young and brave, and old and wise.”  Certainly one would hope to achieve the happier medium of brave and wise (not necessarily in that order), but humans being who we are and experience being the master teacher that it is, we find ourselves on one end of both spectra, either wizened in age, or brave perhaps because of youth.

The Stones, celebrating their 50th year as a band in 2012, probably rock better than the Court does.  One can’t help wondering whether the wisdom of the Stones wouldn’t serve us better than that of the current court.  Ironically, those most wise at the Court tend to be the younger ones (Breyer definitely excluded).  I’d be inclined to swap out Alito and Scalia  for any two of the Stones.  Maybe Roberts for a third.

Thomas?  Well, he’s almost a contemporary, and I had lunch with him a couple of times (Senate staff).  I hate to criticize a lunch companion so.  But comparing Jagger’s record at the London School of Economics with Thomas’s record in academia, yeah, I could be persuaded.  I dealt with Breyer, too (not at lunch), and am inclined to think he could rock pretty well.

Perhaps the answer is that we need more rock and roll in the halls of justice.  Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen, among others, would probably agree.

If both groups banned the use of hair dye, would it improve anything they do?

Which bunch would you rather have dispensing final decisions on justice?  Which bunch would you prefer to see in concert?



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