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Case Name Katzenbach v. McClung PA-AL-0001
Docket / Court 64-448 ( N.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Public Accomm./Contracting
Special Collection Civil Rights Division Archival Collection
Case Summary
This lawsuit is about the scope of the federal government's power to prohibit race discrimination by private entities. It involved Ollie's, a Birmingham, AL restaurant that refused to provide sit-in dining to Black customers ( ... read more >
This lawsuit is about the scope of the federal government's power to prohibit race discrimination by private entities. It involved Ollie's, a Birmingham, AL restaurant that refused to provide sit-in dining to Black customers (Montgomery Advertiser, Dec. 17, 1964). On July 31, 1964, the owners sued the Attorney General of the United States in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama to prevent enforcement against them of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits providers of public accommodations from discriminating based on race. They argued that Title II was unconstitutional as applied to them as beyond Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce and sought injunctive relief.

At first, the United States argued that Title II did not apply to Ollie's because Ollie's did not advertise to or frequently serve interstate travelers. But the court (a three-judge panel consisting of Judges Gewin, Lynne, and Grooms) found that the government intended “to enforce the provisions of title II against its violators” and ruled that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional. The court found that there were only three possible sources for Congressional power to sustain the Act: the Thirteenth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Commerce Clause. The defendants did not attempt to defend the law under the Thirteenth Amendment, and the court ruled that the Civil Rights Act could not be applied under the Fourteenth Amendment because the State of Alabama was not involved directly. The court also held that the Commerce Clause was insufficient justification, because to find interstate commerce here would be to find it everywhere, and thus, subject everything to congressional power under the Commerce Clause. Instead, the court found that the law was invalid and enjoined it on September 17, 1964. 233 F. Supp. 815.

The defendants appealed the same day, and the case went up to the Supreme Court. Justice Hugo Black, a Birmingham native and former member of the Ku Klux Klan, entered an order staying the judgement. (That displeased his wife, who regularly dined at Ollie's.)

The Supreme Court ultimately held that Ollie's discriminatory practices affected interstate commerce by reducing spending and interstate travel by Black persons, and by deterring highly skilled people from moving into areas with more discrimination, thus restricting the growth of industry there. As a result, application of Title II to Ollie's was within Congress's commerce power. So, the Court reversed the judgment below. 379 U.S. 294. The Court decided this case at the same time it decided Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, which raised the similar issue of discrimination by hotels. 379 U.S. 241.

For more information on the Supreme Court's deliberations in this case, including draft opinions and letters between the Justices, see here.

Soon after the Supreme Court's decision was announced, five Black customers walked into the restaurant and were served (Time Magazine Dec. 1964).

Samuel Poortenga - 04/07/2021

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Commerce Power
Due Process
Equal Protection
Slavery/Involuntary servitude
Race discrimination
Access to public accommodations - privately owned
Disparate Treatment
Racial segregation
Retail Shopping
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Type of Facility
Non-government for profit
Causes of Action Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Ex parte Young (federal or state officials)
Defendant(s) Nicholas Katzenbach
Plaintiff Description Restaurant owner who was discriminating against Black customers.
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Defendant
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 07/31/1964
Case Closing Year 1964
Case Ongoing No
Case Listing PA-GA-0001 : Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (N.D. Ga.)
Additional Resources
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  Case Summary (Katzenbach v. McClung)
Tarlton Law Library
Date: November 30, 1964
By: Tarlton Law Library
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
U.S. Supreme Court
Amicus Curiae Brief of the State of North Carolina
PA-AL-0001-0004.pdf | Detail
U.S. Supreme Court
Brief for Appellees
PA-AL-0001-0005.pdf | Detail
N.D. Ala.
Opinion (233 F.Supp. 815)
PA-AL-0001-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Supreme Court
Brief for the Appellants
PA-AL-0001-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Alexander (Sandy) Ross
U.S. Supreme Court
[Supreme Court] Opinion (379 U.S. 294)
PA-AL-0001-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
show all people docs
Judges Clark, Tom C. (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Gewin, Walter Pettus (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
Grooms, Harlan Hobart (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
Lynne, Seybourn Harris (N.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Bruton, T W (North Carolina) show/hide docs
Moody, Ralph (North Carolina) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Choppin, Gerald P. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Cox, Archibald (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Faulkner, James H. (Alabama) show/hide docs
Greene, Harold H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Heymann, Philip (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Marer, Alan G. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Marshall, Burke (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Smith, Robert Mcd show/hide docs
Somerville, William G show/hide docs
Spritzer, Ralph S. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs

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