The Stone Court (1941–46)
On what grounds did the Stone Court invalidate a Virginia law requiring segregation of bus passengers?
In Morgan v. Virginia (1946), the Stone Court struck down a Virginia segregation law because it violated the Commerce Clause. The state law required separation of white and black passengers on buses traveling on the roads, including interstates. This posed a problem because other states and the District of Columbia did not require segregation of passengers. This meant that passengers might have to move several times during a single trip to ensure compliance with different state laws. According to the majority of the Supreme Court, this amounted to interference with interstate commerce. Justice Stanley Reed wrote for the majority that “the enforcement of the requirements for reseating would be disturbing.” He concluded that “seating arrangements for the different races in interstate motor travel require a single, uniform rule to promote and protect national travel.”
Justice Harold Burton was the Court’s lone dissenter. He reasoned that the states were free to adopt their own laws regarding seating in the absence of a federal law on the subject. He wrote: “The inaction of Congress is an important indication that, in the opinion of Congress, this issue is better met without nationally uniform affirmative regulation than with it.”