Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia
Decided on June 3, 1946; 328 US 373


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Interstate commerce, racial discrimination

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does Virginia's state statute, which requires that all passengers on a bus, both interstate and intrastate, to separate without discrimination the white and colored passengers in their... buses so that contiguous seats will not be occupied by persons of different races at the same time, violate the interstate commerce clause of the US Constitution?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Appellant, who is a Negro, was traveling on a motor common carrier... There were other passengers, both white and colored. On her refusal to accede to a request of the driver to move to a back seat, which was partly occupied by other colored passengers, so as to permit the seat that she vacated to be used by white passengers, a warrant was obtained and appellant was arrested, tried and convicted of a violation of Section 4097dd of the Virginia Code... which requires all passengers [on a bus], both interstate and intrastate, to separate without discrimination the white and colored passengers in their... buses so that contiguous seats will not be occupied by persons of different races at the same time..."

Appellant claimed that the statute unlawfully burdened the Interestate Commerce. "On a writ of error the conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. The Court of Appeals interpreted the Virginia statute as applicable to appellant since the statute 'embraces all motor vehicles and all passengers, both interstate and intrastate.'"

On Appeal the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable

Unavailable

III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Messrs. William H. Hastie, of Washington, DC, and Thurgood Marshall, of New York City, for appellant. Mr. Abram P. Staples, of Richmond, Va., for appellee.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"[A] state legislation is invalid if it unduly burdens commerce in matters where uniformity is necessary - necessary in the constitutional sense of useful in accomplishing a permitted purpose...

On appellant's journey, this statute required that she sit in designated seats in Virginia... An interstate passenger must if necessary repeatedly shift seats while moving in Virginia to meet the seating requirements of the changing passenger group. On arrival at the District of Columbia line, the appellant would have had freedom to occupy any available seat and so to the end of her journey...

As there is no federal act dealing with the separation of races in interstate transportation, we must decide the validity of this Virginia statute on the challenge that it interferes with commerce... It seems clear to us that seating arrangements for the different races in interstate motor travel require a single, uniform rule to promote and protect national travel. Consequently, we hold the Virginia statute in controversy invalid."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia.

Justice Vote: 7 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Reed, S.Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rutledge, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Vinson, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Murphy, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Burton, H. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Jackson, R. Took no part in the decision
  • V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

    The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeals; the Supreme Court reversed in a 7-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.