Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.

Following is the case brief for Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co., 392 U.S. 409 (1968)

Case Summary of Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.:

  • A real estate company refused to sell a home to an African-American man, Jones, because he was African-American.
  • Jones sued in federal court, alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1982.
  • The lower courts denied Jones relief.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court, however, held that 42 U.S.C. § 1982 bars all racial discrimination, both public and private, in any real estate transaction, and that Congress had the authority to pass 42 U.S.C. § 1982 based on the Thirteenth Amendment.

Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

42 U.S.C. § 1982 provides that all citizens shall have the same right enjoyed by white citizens “to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.”  In 1965, petitioners, including Jones, filed a complaint in federal district court alleging that the respondent real estate company refused to sell them a home solely because they were African-American.  They sought injunctive and other relief based in part on § 1982.

Procedural History:

  • The district court granted the real estate company’s motion to dismiss.
  • The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that § 1982 applied only to state action.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

Does § 1982 bar all racial discrimination, private as well as public, in the sale or rental of property?  Yes.

Judgment:

The decision of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals is reversed.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

42 U.S.C. § 1982 bars both public and private racial discrimination in real estate transactions, as it is a valid exercise of Congress’ powers under the Thirteenth Amendment.

Reasoning:

The statute, § 1982, prohibits “all racial discrimination,” and the history of the statute demonstrates that Congress meant exactly what it said – that “all” racial discrimination, public and private, is prohibited under the statute.

Further, Congress has the power to prohibit all racial discrimination, private and public, in real estate transactions based on its power under the Thirteenth Amendment.  That Amendment provides that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . . . shall exist within the United States,” and “Congress shall have power to enforce [the Amendment] by appropriate legislation.”

That directive means that Congress has the power to pass laws to abolish all badges and incidents of slavery in the U.S.  Refusing to sell or rent real estate to African-Americans is one such “badge” of slavery.  In short, the Thirteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to eliminate all racial barriers to the acquisition of real and personal property.

Concurring and Dissenting Opinions:

Concurring Opinion (Douglas):

Certain badges of slavery remain to this day.  Though slavery has been taken out of our laws, it has yet to be removed from the minds and hearts of many white men.  The cases that have come before the Court are a “spectacle of slavery unwilling to die.”  Those include cases to stop minorities from voting, from serving on juries, from going to schools with whites, from marrying whites, from living in white neighborhoods, and from using the same public facilities.  The Court majority is correct to find that § 1982 applies to both public and private action.

Dissenting Opinion (Harlan):

The majority conclusion on the applicability of § 1982 to private action is wrong, or at least open to serious doubt.  Also, the recent passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 makes the importance of this case so diminished that certiorari was improvidently granted.

Significance:

Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. is significant because it expressly barred racial discrimination in private, as well as public, action.  Reaching private action through the Thirteenth Amendment was a controversial step for the Court to take, but in so doing, the Court gave its stamp of approval of Congress’ authority to remove those “badges” of slavery that still exist.

Student Resources:

Read the Full Court Opinion

Listen to the Oral Arguments

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