High Court Rules Bus Segregation Unconstitutional

Alabama and Montgomery Laws Held in Violation of the 14th Amendment


Case Involves Bus Company Boycotted by Negroes- Some Whites Bitter

Washington, Nov. 13 – An Alabama law and a city ordinance requiring segregation of races on intrastate buses were declared invalid by the Supreme Court today.

The Court affirmed a ruling by a three-judge Federal court that held the challenged statutes “violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law nor deny to any citizen the equal protection of the laws.

In upholding the lower court’s judgment, the Supreme Court cited its 1954 decision outlawing racial discrimination in public parks and on public golf courses.

[Officials of several Southern states indicated they would continue to enforce bus segregation laws despite the court’s decision. Segregationist leaders were bitter in their denunciations of the court and its ruling.]
‘Separate But Equal’
Although only Alabama laws were involved today, the ruling was interpreted as outlawing state or municipal enactments anywhere that require separation of the races on public vehicles. It was thought to have placed a headstone at the grave of Plessy v. Verguson.

This was a case decided in 1896, in which the high court ruled that racial segregation on railroads was not unconstitutional if separate but equal facilities were provided.

The “separate but equal” doctrine later was applied to segregation in other fields, such as education, and generally prevailed until the high court’s ruling in school cases.

Since then the doctrine has been discarded in every test that has been brought to the Supreme Court.

Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas have laws that could be affected by today’s ruling.

Last term the Supreme Court had under advisement a case from Columbia, S.C. involving a similar issue. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had invalidated South Carolina’s bus segregation law. The ruling was interpreted as applying also to bus segregation in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, which are in the Fourth Judicial Circuit.

In that case, however, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on technical grounds, although it did not specifically affirm or reverse the circuit court’s ruling.
Today’s order left little doubt that a new appeal in the Columbia case, if it again came to the High Court after procedural requirements had been compiled with in the lower courts, would suffer the fate of the Alabama statutes.

Grew Out of Boycott

The ruling affirmed today grew out of a boycott by Negroes in Montgomery, Ala., of the local buses. The boycott began last year and is continuing.
Aurelia S. Browder, Susie McDonald, Claudette Colvin and Mary Louise Smith, Negroes, had been required by bus drivers or the police to comply with segregation laws and had been arrested and fined for refusal to do so.
The Montgomery City code required bus operators to provide separate but equal accommodations for white and colored passengers. A state law also required segregation.
The four women did not appeal their convictions, but brought suit to challenge the constitutionality of the city code and the sate law.
A court composed of Circuit Judge Richard T. Rives and District Judges Frank M. Johnson Jr. and Seybourn H. Lynne heard the case. Judges Rives and Johnson held the challenged statues unconstitutional. Judge Lynne dissented.
The Alabama Public Service Commission and the Montgomery Board of Commissioners appealed to the Supreme Court. They asserted that the high court never had overruled the Plessy v. Ferguson decision. They urged the court to hear the case and give a clear-cut, written opinion disposing of the issue.
The court, however, merely granted a motion of lawyers for the Negroes that the lower court decision be affirmed.

John Patterson, Attorney General of Alabama, and Walter J. Knabe of Montgomery presented the appeals of the state and municipal bodies. The Negroes were represented by Thurgood Marshall, Robert L. Carter, Fred D. Gray and Charles D. Langford.

Slight Delay Is Foreseen

Fort Worth, Tex., Nov. 13 – United Circuit Judge Richard T. Rives of Montgomery, Ala., said today the Supreme Court injunction against segregation on Montgomery buses would go into effect as soon as the court’s order reached the United Sates District Court at Montgomery.

Customarily, an order takes two or three weeks to reach the district court, he said.

Judge Rives is in Fort Worth for a session of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. He is one of three special judges whose decision on bus segregation was upheld by the Supreme Court today.


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