Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.
The Same Right As White Citizens
The third part dealt with the language of Section 1982, which stated that citizens of any race would enjoy "the same right" to purchase and lease property "as is enjoyed by white citizens." It was a very brief section which held that Section 1982 was unambiguous and clear-cut in its intention that all discrimination against blacks was forbidden, and no other interpretation was reasonable.
The fourth section was the lengthiest and triggered much of the disagreement. It studied the debates surrounding the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and whether or not the Congress at that time believed or intended that the bill would affect private conduct as well as public. This section included information concerning the state of black America in the 1860s, as well as elaborate studies and interpretations of comments and questions uttered by senators and congressmen on the floor during the debates. It concluded that the supporters of the bill understood that the bill would affect all discrimination against blacks, not just that which was sanctioned by state governments.
The fifth section of the decision concerned the question of Congress' power to pass a law such as the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and Section 1982. The answer to this question the Court found in a previous interpretation of the Thirteenth Amendment, which prohibited slavery and gave Congress the power to enforce this prohibition. A subsequent Court ruling determined that the amendment imbued "Congress with power to pass all laws necessary and proper for abolishing all badges and incidents of slavery in the United States." Civil rights issues such as free housing had already been established to fall under the heading of "incidents of slavery," since certain civil rights were so essential to freedom that a citizen could be held in de facto slavery if these were denied.
Justice Douglas wrote a brief but stirring concurrence, pointing out that Jim Crow laws and other widespread customs of the time held black citizens in a condition not resembling freedom, and urged that much more be done to equalize treatment of the races at several levels of society.
Justice Harlan weighed in with a lengthy and contentious dissent, speaking for himself and Justice White. He claimed that precedent was clearly contrary to the majority opinion, that there was ample reason to believe the statute only was meant to apply to state or state-sponsored action, that debate in Congress at the time supported this opinion, and that popular opinion after the Civil War made it impossible to believe that Congress would pass a bill which would prohibit private discrimination in such a manner. He then concluded that the Court should not have heard the case in the first place because the Civil Rights Act of 1968 made its application so narrow as to be nearly irrelevant.
Jones v. Mayer was the focus of some debate within the legal profession. While some hailed the decision as a brave and correct interpretation supporting civil rights, others questioned the soundness of the Court's logic and called the ruling a case of judicial activism. Nevertheless, the ruling found historical significance, marking the first time the Supreme Court ruled that black homebuyers could not be denied by anyone the right to live where they wished because of their race.