• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court restricted the state action doctrine when it gave a broad reading to a Reconstruction-era statute that criminalized conspiracies to interfere with rights “secured” by the U.S. Constitution.

In the southern states during the 1960’s, it was almost impossible to convict white citizens who used violence against civil rights activists. After defendants in a Georgia trial were found not guilty of murdering black army officer Lemuel Penn, a federal grand jury indicted them on several charges, including conspiracy to deprive people of the right to interstate travel and conspiracy in making false reports to the police in order to intimidate African Americans from seeking equal utilization of public facilities. A federal district judge dismissed the charges, ruling that the relevant statute did not encompass any Fourteenth Amendment rights that Congress had the authority to enforce.State action;Guest, United States v.[Guest, United States v.]

By a 9-0 vote, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling, but the justices presented a confusing array of opinions about the reasons for the judgment. Eight of the justices voted to uphold the portion of the indictment charging interference with interstate travel. Six of the justices, moreover, endorsed the view that Congress had the authority to punish all conspiracies with or without state action to interfere with Fourteenth Amendment rights. Therefore, the justices came close to rejecting the state action doctrine as articulated in the Civil Rights Cases (1883).

The Guest decision was soon overshadowed by Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.[case]Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.[Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.] (1968), which recognized Congress’s power to legislate against private racial discrimination under the Thirteenth Amendment.

Cruikshank, United States v.

Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.

Moose Lodge v. Irvis

Private discrimination

Race and discrimination

State action

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