The Warren Court (1953–69)

Racial Discrimination

What did the Warren Court rule with respect to the Thirteenth Amendment and private racial discrimination?

The Warren Court ruled in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. (1968) that Congress had the power under the Thirteenth Amendment to pass laws prohibiting racial discrimination in the private sector. Joseph Lee Jones sued after a real estate company refused to sell him land in the Paddock Woods community of St. Louis, Missouri.

Jones sued, alleging violation of federal law 42 U.S.C. section 1982, which provides: “All citizens of the United States shall have the same right, in every State and Territory, as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.”

The lower courts ruled against Jones, finding that the federal law in question did not apply to acts of purely private racial discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed 7–2. First, Congress reasoned that the text of the law applied to all acts of racial discrimination dealing with the selling of property—both public and private.

Then, the Court reached the larger constitutional question of whether Congress had the authority under the Thirteenth Amendment to regulate acts of private racial discrimination. The Court ruled that Congress had such power. “Surely Congress has the power under the Thirteenth Amendment rationally to determine what are the badges and the incidents of slavery, and the authority to translate that determination into effective legislation,” the Court wrote.


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