|Monroe v. Pape
272 F.2d 365, reversed.
[ Douglas ]
[ Harlan ]
[ Frankfurter ]
Monroe v. Pape
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, whom MR. JUSTICE STEWART joins, concurring.
Were this case here as one of first impression, I would find the "under color of any statute" issue very close indeed. However, in Classic [n1] and Screws, [n2] this Court considered a substantially identical statutory phrase to have a meaning which, unless we now retreat from it, requires that issue to go for the petitioners here.
From my point of view, the policy of stare decisis, as it should be applied in matters of statutory construction, and, to a lesser extent, the indications of congressional acceptance of this Court's earlier interpretation, require that it appear beyond doubt from the legislative history of the 1871 statute that Classic and Screws misapprehended the meaning of the controlling provision [n3] before a departure from what was decided in those cases would be justified. Since I can find no such justifying indication in that legislative history, I join the opinion of the Court. However, what has been written on both sides of the matter makes some additional observations appropriate. [p193]
Those aspects of Congress' purpose which are quite clear in the earlier congressional debates, as quoted by my Brothers DOUGLAS and FRANKFURTER in turn, seem to me to be inherently ambiguous when applied to the case of an isolated abuse of state authority by an official. One can agree with the Court's opinion that:
It is abundantly clear that one reason the legislation was passed was to afford a federal right in federal courts because, by reason of prejudice, passion, neglect, intolerance or otherwise, state laws might not be enforced and the claims of citizens to the enjoyment of rights, privileges, and immunities guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment might be denied by the state agencies. . . .
without being certain that Congress meant to deal with anything other than abuses so recurrent as to amount to "custom, or usage." One can agree with my Brother FRANKFURTER, in dissent, that Congress had no intention of taking over the whole field of ordinary state torts and crimes, without being certain that the enacting Congress would not have regarded actions by an official, made possible by his position, as far more serious than an ordinary state tort, and therefore as a matter of federal concern. If attention is directed at the rare specific references to isolated abuses of state authority, one finds them neither so clear nor so disproportionately divided between favoring the positions of the majority or the dissent as to make either position seem plainly correct. [n4]
Besides the inconclusiveness I find in the legislative history, it seems to me by no means evident that a position [p194] favoring departure from Classic and Screws fits better that with which the enacting Congress was concerned than does the position the Court adopted 20 years ago. There are apparent incongruities in the view of the dissent which may be more easily reconciled in terms of the earlier holding in Classic.
The dissent considers that the "under color of" provision of § 1983 distinguishes between unconstitutional actions taken without state authority, which only the State should remedy, and unconstitutional actions authorized by the State, which the Federal Act was to reach. If so, then the controlling difference for the enacting legislature must have been either that the state remedy was more adequate for unauthorized actions than for authorized ones or that there was, in some sense, greater harm from unconstitutional actions authorized by the full panoply of state power and approval than from unconstitutional actions not so authorized or acquiesced in by the State. I find less than compelling the evidence that either distinction was important to that Congress.
If the state remedy was considered adequate when the official's unconstitutional act was unauthorized, why should it not be thought equally adequate when the unconstitutional act was authorized? For if one thing is very clear in the legislative history, it is that the Congress of 1871 was well aware that no action requiring state judicial enforcement could be taken in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment without that enforcement being declared void by this Court on direct review from the state courts. And presumably it must also have been understood that there would be Supreme Court review of the denial of a state damage remedy against an official on grounds of state authorization of the unconstitutional [p195] action. It therefore seems to me that the same state remedies would, with ultimate aid of Supreme Court review, furnish identical relief in the two situations. This is the point Senator Blair made when, having stated that the object of the Fourteenth Amendment was to prevent any discrimination by the law of any State, he argued that:
This being forbidden by the Constitution of the United States, and all the judges, State and national, being sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, and the Supreme Court of the United States having power to supervise and correct the action of the State courts when they violated the Constitution of the United States, there could be no danger of the violation of the right of citizens under color of the laws of the States.
Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., at App. 231.
Since the suggested narrow construction of § 1983 presupposes that state measures were adequate to remedy unauthorized deprivations of constitutional rights, and since the identical state relief could be obtained for state-authorized acts with the aid of Supreme Court review, this narrow construction would reduce the statute to having merely a jurisdictional function, shifting the load of federal supervision from the Supreme Court to the lower courts and providing a federal tribunal for fact findings in cases involving authorized action. Such a function could be justified on various grounds. It could, for example, be argued that the state courts would be less willing to find a constitutional violation in cases involving "authorized action" and that, therefore, the victim of such action would bear a greater burden in that he would more likely have to carry his case to this Court, and, once here, might be bound by unfavorable state court findings. But the legislative debates do not disclose congressional [p196] concern about the burdens of litigation placed upon the victims of "authorized" constitutional violations, contrasted to the victims of unauthorized violations. Neither did Congress indicate an interest in relieving the burden placed on this Court in reviewing such cases.
The statute becomes more than a jurisdictional provision only if one attributes to the enacting legislature the view that a deprivation of a constitutional right is significantly different from, and more serious than, a violation of a state right, and therefore deserves a different remedy even though the same act may constitute both a state tort and the deprivation of a constitutional right. This view, by no means unrealistic as a common sense matter, [n5] is, I believe, more consistent with the flavor of the legislative history than is a view that the primary purpose of the statute was to grant a lower court forum for fact findings. For example, the tone is surely one of overflowing protection of constitutional rights, and there is not a hint of concern about the administrative burden on the Supreme Court, when Senator Frelinghuysen says:
As to the civil remedies, for a violation of these privileges, we know that, when the courts of a State [p197] violate the provisions of the Constitution or the law of the United States, there is now relief afforded by a review in the Federal courts. And since the 14th Amendment forbids any State from making or enforcing any law abridging these privileges and immunities, as you cannot reach the Legislatures, the injured party should have an original action in our Federal courts, so that, by injunction or by the recovery of damages, he could have relief against the party who under color of such law is guilty of infringing his rights. As to the civil remedy, no one, I think, can object.
Id. at 501. And Senator Carpenter reflected a similar belief that the protection granted by the statute was to be very different from the relief available on review of state proceedings:
The prohibition in the old Constitution that no State should pass a law impairing the obligation of contracts was a negative prohibition laid upon the State. Congress was not authorized to interfere in case the State violated that provision. It is true that, when private rights were affected by such a State law, and that was brought before the judiciary, either of the State or nation, it was the duty of the court to pronounce the act void; but there the matter ended. Under the present Constitution, however, in regard to those rights which are secured by the fourteenth amendment, they are not left as the right of the citizen in regard to laws impairing the obligation of contracts was left, to be disposed of by the courts as the cases should arise between man and man, but Congress is clothed with the affirmative power and jurisdiction to correct the evil.
I think there is one of the fundamental, one of the great, the tremendous revolutions effected in our Government by that article of the Constitution. It [p198] gives Congress affirmative power to protect the rights of the citizen, whereas, before, no such right was given to save the citizen from the violation of any of his rights by State Legislatures, and the only remedy was a judicial one when the case arose.
Id. at 577.
In my view, these considerations put in serious doubt the conclusion that § 1983 was limited to state-authorized unconstitutional acts, on the premise that state remedies respecting them were considered less adequate than those available for unauthorized acts.
I think this limited interpretation of § 1983 fares no better when viewed from the other possible premise for it, namely that state-approved constitutional deprivations were considered more offensive than those not so approved. For one thing, the enacting Congress was not unaware of the fact that there was a substantial overlap between the protections granted by state constitutional provisions and those granted by the Fourteenth Amendment. Indeed, one opponent of the bill, Senator Trumbull, went so far as to state in a debate with Senators Carpenter and Edmunds that his research indicated a complete overlap in every State, at least as to the protections of the Due Process Clause. [n6] Thus, in one very significant sense, there was no ultimate state approval of a large portion of otherwise authorized actions depriving a person of due process rights. I hesitate to assume that the proponents of the present statute, who regarded it as necessary even though they knew that the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment were self-executing, would have thought the remedies unnecessary whenever there were self-executing provisions of state constitutions also forbidding what the Fourteenth Amendment forbids. The only alternative is [p199] to disregard the possibility that a state court would find the action unauthorized on grounds of the state constitution. But if the defendant official is denied the right to defend in the federal court upon the ground that a state court would find his action unauthorized in the light of the state constitution, it is difficult to contend that it is the added harmfulness of state approval that justifies a different remedy for authorized than for unauthorized actions of state officers. Moreover, if indeed the legislature meant to distinguish between authorized and unauthorized acts, and yet did not mean the statute to be inapplicable whenever there was a state constitutional provision which, reasonably interpreted, gave protection similar to that of a provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, would there not have been some explanation of this exception to the general rule? The fact that there is none in the legislative history at least makes more difficult a contention that these legislators were, in fact, making a distinction between use and misuse of state power.
There is a further basis for doubt that it was the additional force of state approval which justified a distinction between authorized and unauthorized actions. No one suggests that there is a difference in the showing the plaintiff must make to assert a claim under § 1983 depending upon whether he is asserting a denial of rights secured by the Equal Protection Clause or a denial of rights secured by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. If the same Congress which passed what is now § 1983 also provided remedies against two or more nonofficials who conspire to prevent an official from granting equal protection of the laws, see 42 U.S.C. § 1985 then it would seem almost untenable to insist that this Congress would have hesitated, on the grounds of lack of full state approval of the official's act, to provide similar remedies against an official who, unauthorized, denied that equal protection of the laws on his own initiative. For [p200] there would be no likely state approval of or even acquiescence in a conspiracy to coerce a state official to deny equal protection. Indeed, it is difficult to attribute to a Congress which forbad two private citizens from hindering an official's giving of equal protection an intent to leave that official free to deny equal protection of his own accord. [n7]
We have not passed upon the question whether 42 U.S.C. § 1985 [n8] which was passed as the second section of the Act that included § 1983, was intended to reach only the Ku Klux Klan or other substantially organized group activity, as distinguished from what its words seem to include, any conspiracy of two persons with
the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State . . . from giving or securing to all persons within such State . . . the equal protection of the laws. . . . [n9]
Without now deciding the question, I think [p201] it is sufficient to note that the legislative history is not without indications that what the words of the statute seem to state was, in fact, the meaning assumed by Congress. [n10] [p202]
These difficulties in explaining the basis of a distinction between authorized and unauthorized deprivations of constitutional rights fortify my view that the legislative history does not bear the burden which stare decisis casts upon it. For this reason, and for those stated in the opinion of the Court, I agree that we should not now depart from the holdings of the Classic and Screws cases.
1. 313 U.S. 299.
2. 325 U.S. 91.
3. The provision is now found in 42 U.S.C. § 1983:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.
4. Compare Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess. 504 (Senator Pratt), and id. at App. 50 (Rep. Kerr), with Cong.Globe, 41st Cong., 2d Sess. 3663 (Senator Sherman), Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess. 697 (Senator Edmunds), id. at App. 68 (Rep. Shellabarger), and Cong.Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess. 1758 (Senator Trumbull).
5. There will be many cases in which the relief provided by the state to the victim of a use of state power which the state either did not or could not constitutionally authorize will be far less than what Congress may have thought would be fair reimbursement for deprivation of a constitutional right. I will venture only a few examples. There may be no damage remedy for the loss of voting rights or for the harm from psychological coercion leading to a confession. And what is the dollar value of the right to go to unsegregated schools? Even the remedy for such an unauthorized search and seizure as Monroe was allegedly subjected to may be only the nominal amount of damages to physical property allowable in an action for trespass to land. It would indeed be the purest coincidence if the state remedies for violations of common law rights by private citizens were fully appropriate to redress those injuries which only a state official can cause and against which the Constitution provides protection.
6. Id. at 577.
7. Compare the statement of Representative Burchard:
If the refusal of a State officer, acting for the State, to accord equality of civil rights renders him amenable to punishment for the offense under United States law, conspirators who attempt to prevent such officers from performing such duty are also clearly liable.
Cong.Globe, 42d Cong., 1st Sess., App. 315.
8. Section 2 as finally adopted was substantially as now provided in 42 U.S.C. § 1985:
If two or more persons in any State . . . conspire . . . for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws; or for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State . . . from giving or securing to all persons within such State . . . the equal protection of the laws; [and] if one or more persons engaged therein do, or cause to be done, any act in furtherance of the object of such conspiracy, whereby another is injured in his person or property, or deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, the party so injured or deprived may have an action for the recovery of damages, occasioned by such injury or deprivation, against any one or more of the conspirators.
9. I do not think that this Court's decision in Collins v. Hardyman, 341 U.S. 651, can properly be viewed as determining the scope of the provision of § 1985 which refers to conspiring "for the purpose of preventing . . . the constituted authorities of any State . . . from giving . . . the equal protection of the laws. . . ." Not only did the Court specifically disclaim any consideration of this provision, but it proceeded to emphasize that the petitioners therein had only been subjected to a private discrimination, since
There is not the slightest allegation that defendants were conscious of or trying to influence the law, or were endeavoring to obstruct or interfere with it.
341 U.S. at 661. The holding that the equal protection of the law is unaffected by discriminatorily motivated violations of state law so long as the instrumentalities of law enforcement remain free, able, and willing to remedy these violations is clearly based upon premises which cannot control the quite dissimilar case of a conspiratorial attempt to affect the fairness of these instrumentalities, "the constituted authorities of any State."
10. Representative Poland, who had doubted the constitutionality of the earlier forms of § 2, had no such doubts about its present form. His reading of the provision is clear from his defense of it:
But I do agree that, if a State shall deny the equal protection of the laws, or if a State make proper laws and have proper officers to enforce those laws, and somebody undertakes to step in and clog justice by preventing the State authorities from carrying out this constitutional provision, then I do claim that we have the right to make such interference an offense against the United States; that the Constitution does empower us to aid in carrying out this injunction, which, by the Constitution, we have laid upon the States, that they shall afford the equal protection of the laws to all their citizens. When the State has provided the law, and has provided the officer to carry out the law, then we have the right to say that anybody who undertakes to interfere and prevent the execution of that State law is amenable to this provision of the Constitution, and to the law that we may make under it declaring it to be an offense against the United States.
Id. at 514. An opponent of the provision was, if anything, even clearer in expressing his understanding of the coverage of the provision:
. . . It does not require that the combination shall be one that the State cannot put down; it does not require that it shall amount to anything like insurrection. If three persons combine for the purpose of preventing or hindering the constituted authorities of any State from extending to all persons the equal protection of the laws, although those persons may be taken by the first sheriff who can catch them or the first constable, although every citizen in the country may be ready to aid as a posse, yet this statute applies. It is no case of domestic violence, no case of insurrection, and no case, therefore, for the interference of the Federal Government, much less its interference where there is no call made upon it by the Governor or the Legislature of the State.
Id. at App. 218 (Senator Thurman); see also id. at 514 (Rep. Farnsworth).