|Evans v. Newton
220 Ga. 280, 138 S.E.2d 573, reversed.
[ Douglas ]
[ White ]
[ Black ]
[ Harlan ]
Evans v. Newton
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, whom MR. JUSTICE STEWART joins, dissenting.
This decision, in my opinion, is more the product of human impulses, which I fully share, than of solid constitutional thinking. It is made at the sacrifice of long-established and still wise procedural and substantive constitutional principle. I must respectfully dissent.
In my view, the writ should be dismissed as improvidently granted because the far-reaching constitutional question tendered is not presented by this record with sufficient clarity to require or justify its adjudication, assuming that the question is presented at all.
In the posture in which this case reached the state courts, it required of them no more than approval of the city's resignation as trustee under Senator Bacon's will and the appointment of successor trustees. Neither of these issues, of course, would, in itself, present a federal question. While I am inclined to agree with my Brother BLACK that this is all the state courts decided, I think it must be recognized that the record is not wholly free from ambiguity on this score. Even so, the writ should be dismissed. To infer from the Georgia Supreme Court's opinion, as the majority here does, a further holding that the new trustees are entitled to operate Baconsfield on a racially restricted basis is to stretch for a constitutional issue. This plainly contravenes the established rule that this Court will not reach constitutional questions if their decision can reasonably be avoided. Peters v. Hobby, 349 U.S. 331; United States v. Rumely, [p316] 345 U.S. 41; Charles River Bridge v. Warren Bridge, 11 Pet. 420, 553. Application of that doctrine is especially called for here, where decision should require precise knowledge of the factual details and nuances that only time and a complete record can bring into focus. Dismissal of the writ should thus follow.
On the merits, which I reach only because the Court has done so, I do not think that the Fourteenth Amendment permits this Court, in effect, to frustrate the terms of Senator Bacon's will, now that the City of Macon is no longer connected, so far as the record shows, with the administration of Baconsfield. If the majority is in doubt that such is the case, it should remand for findings on that issue, and not reverse.
The Equal Protection Clause reaches only discriminations that are the product of capricious state action; it does not touch discriminations whose origins and effectuation arise solely out of individual predilections, prejudices, and acts. Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3. So far as the Fourteenth Amendment is concerned, the curtailing of private discriminatory acts, to the extent they may be forbidden at all, is a matter that is left to the States acting within the permissible range of their police power.
From all that now appears, this is a case of "private discrimination." Baconsfield had its origin not in any significant governmental action [n1] or on any public land, [p317] but rather in the personal social philosophy of Senator Bacon and on property owned by him. The City of Macon's acceptance and, until recent years, its carrying out of the trusteeship were both entirely legitimate, and indeed in accord with the prevailing mores of the times. When continuance of its trusteeship became incompatible with later changes in constitutional doctrine, the city first undertook to disregard the racial restrictions imposed by the will on the use of the park, and then, when that action was appropriately challenged, resigned as trustee. The state courts, obedient to federal commands, Pennsylvania v. Board of Trusts, 353 U.S. 230, have accepted the resignation of the city, and, to prevent failure of the trust under their own laws, have appointed new trustees. I can see nothing in this straightforward [p318] train of events which justifies finding "state action" of the kind necessary to bring the Fourteenth Amendment into play.
The first ground for the majority's state action holding rests on nothing but an assumption and a conjecture. The assumption is that the city itself maintained Baconsfield in the past. The conjecture is that it will continue to be connected with the administration of the park in the future. The only underpinning for the assumption is the circumstance that, over the years, Baconsfield has geographically become an adjunct to the city's park system, and the admitted fact that, until the present proceeding, title to it was vested in the city as trustee. The only predicate for the majority's conjecture as to the future is the failure of the record to show the contrary.
If speculation is the test, the record more readily supports contrary inferences. Papers before us indicate that Senator Bacon left other property in trust precisely in order to maintain Baconsfield. [n2] Why should it be assumed that these resources were not used in the past for that purpose, still less that the new trustees, now faced with a challenge as to their right to effectuate the terms of Senator Bacon's trust, will not keep Baconsfield privately maintained in all respects? Further, the city's and state courts' readiness to sever ties between the city and park in derogation of the will, let alone the city's earlier operation of the park on a nonsegregated basis despite the terms of the will, strongly indicates that they will not flinch from completing the separation of park and state if any ties remain to implicate the Fourteenth Amendment. [p319]
For me, this facet of the majority's opinion affords a wholly unacceptable basis for imputing unconstitutional state action, resting as it does on pure surmise and conjecture, and implausible ones at that. [n3]
Quite evidently uneasy with its first ground of decision, the majority advances another which ultimately emerges as the real holding. This ground derives from what is asserted to be the "public character" (ante, p. 302) of Baconsfield and the "municipal . . . nature" of its services (ante, p. 301). Here it is not suggested that Baconsfield will use public property or funds, be managed by the city, enjoy an exclusive franchise, or even operate under continuing supervision of a public regulatory agency. State action is inherent in the operation of Baconsfield quite independently of any such factors, so it seems to be said, because a privately operated park whose only criterion for exclusion is racial is within the "public domain" (ante, p. 302).
Except for one case which will be found to be a shaky precedent, the cases cited by the majority do not support this novel state action theory. Public Utilities [p320] Comm'n v. Pollak, 343 U.S. 451, applied due process standards, limited like equal protection standards to instances involving state action, to certain action of a private city-wide transit company. State action was explicitly premised on the close legal regulation of the company by the public utilities commission and the commission's approval of the particular action under attack. The conclusion might alternatively have rested on the near-exclusive legal monopoly enjoyed by the company, 343 U.S. at 454, n. 1, but, in all events, nothing was rested on any "public function" theory. Watson v. Memphis, 373 U.S. 526, ordering speedy desegregation of parks in that city, concerned recreation facilities concededly owned or managed by the city government. See 303 F.2d 863, 86865. [n4] The only Fourteenth Amendment case [n5] finding state action in the "public function" performed by a technically private institution is Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501, holding that a company-owned town of over 1,500 residents and effectively integrated into the surrounding area could not suppress free speech on its streets in disregard of constitutional safeguards. [p321] While no stronger case for the "public function" theory can be imagined, the majority opinion won only five of the eight Justices participating, one of whom also concurred separately, and three spoke out in dissent. The doctrine of that case has not since been the basis of other decisions in this Court, and certainly it has not been extended. On the contrary, several years after the decision, this Court declined to review two New York cases which, in turn, held Marsh inapplicable to a privately operated residential community of apartment buildings housing 35,000 residents, Watchtower Bible & Tract Soc'y v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 297 N.Y. 339, 79 N.E.2d 433, certiorari denied, 335 U.S. 886, and to a privately owned housing development of 25,000 people alleged to discriminate on racial grounds, Dorsey v. Stuyvesant Town Corp., 299 N.Y. 512, 87 N.E.2d 541, certiorari denied, 339 U.S. 981. See also Hall v. Virginia, 335 U.S. 875, dismissing the appeal in 188 Va. 72, 49 S.E.2d 369.
More serious than the absence of any firm doctrinal support for this theory of state action are its potentialities for the future. Its failing as a principle of decision in the realm of Fourteenth Amendment concerns can be shown by comparing -- among other examples that might be drawn from the still unfolding sweep of governmental functions -- the "public function" of privately established schools with that of privately owned parks. Like parks, the purpose schools serve is important to the public. Like parks, private control exists, but there is also a very strong tradition of public control in this field. Like parks, schools may be available to almost anyone of one race or religion but to no others. Like parks, there are normally alternatives for those shut out, but there may also be inconveniences and disadvantages caused by the restriction. Like parks, the extent of school intimacy varies greatly depending on the size and character of the institution. [p322]
For all the resemblance, the majority assumes that its decision leaves unaffected the traditional view that the Fourteenth Amendment does not compel private schools to adapt their admission policies to its requirements, but that such matters are left to the States acting within constitutional bounds. I find it difficult, however, to avoid the conclusion that this decision opens the door to reversal of these basic constitutional concepts, and, at least in logic, jeopardizes the existence of denominationally restricted schools while making of every college entrance rejection letter a potential Fourteenth Amendment question.
While this process of analogy might be spun out to reach privately owned orphanages, libraries, garbage collection companies, detective agencies, and a host of other functions commonly regarded as nongovernmental though paralleling fields of governmental activity, the example of schools is, I think, sufficient to indicate the pervasive potentialities of this "public function" theory of state action. It substitutes for the comparatively clear and concrete tests of state action a catchphrase approach as vague and amorphous as it is far-reaching. It dispenses with the sound and careful principles of past decisions in this realm. And it carries the seeds of transferring to federal authority vast areas of concern whose regulation has wisely been left by the Constitution to the States.
1. The majority disclaims reliance on the early Georgia charitable trust statutes authorizing the establishment of racially restricted parks and permitting a city to act as trustee under such a trust. My Brother WHITE, however, finds that the mere existence of those statutes, enacted in 1905, "incurably taint[s]" the racial conditions of Senator Bacon's will (ante, p. 305). For several reasons, that thesis seems to me to fall short. First, it is by no means clear that Georgia common law would not have permitted user restrictions on such a park in trust, so that the statute was but declaratory of existing law pro tanto. See, e.g., Houston v. Mills Memorial Home, 202 Ga. 540, 43 S.E.2d 680 (permitting trust for home for Negro aged). Thus, even on my Brother WHITE's premise that a State, in allowing discrimination, may not discriminate among possible user restrictions, the proper course would be to remand to the Georgia courts to determine whether user-restricted trusts such as Senator Bacon's were, in any event, valid under the state common law. Second, in order to find an "incurable taint" of the racial conditions, rather than an arguable claim turning on state common law, it is apparently suggested that the state statutes invalidly "removed . . . doubt only for racial restrictions" (ante, p 306) and, by this clarification, improperly encouraged Senator Bacon to discriminate. There is, however, absolutely no indication whatever in the record that Senator Bacon would have acted otherwise but for the statute, a gap in reasoning that cannot be obscured by general discussion of state "involvement" or "infection." Third, it could hardly be argued that the statute in question was unconstitutional when passed, in light of the then-prevailing constitutional doctrine; that being so, it is difficult to perceive how it can now be taken to have tainted Senator Bacon's will at the time he made his irrevocable choice.
2. See R. 20, 22, for provisions of Senator Bacon's will allotting property for "the management, improvement and preservation" of the park.
3. Twice in its opinion, the majority intimates it might reach a different conclusion on the city's involvement if it had a fully developed record before it. At p. 301, ante the Court says,
We only hold that, where the tradition of municipal control had become firmly established, we cannot take judicial notice that the mere substitution of trustees instantly transferred this park from the public to the private sector.
And in concluding at p. 302, ante, the opinion reads:
We put the matter that way because, on this record, we cannot say that the transfer of title per se dissentangled the park from segregation under the municipal regime that long controlled it.
These cautions seem to reinforce the point, made at the outset of this dissent, that the Court should have refused to adjudicate the constitutional issue on this cloudy record. See Rescue Army v. Municipal Court, 331 U.S. 549.
4. The majority's language directly following its Watson citation (ante, p. 302) --
and state courts that aid private parties to perform that public function [mass recreation through the use of parks] on a segregated basis implicate the State in conduct proscribed by the Fourteenth Amendment
-- quite evidently is oblique reliance on Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, which the majority does not even cite. Whatever may be the basis of that inscrutable decision, certainly nothing in it purports to rest on anything resembling the "public function" theory.
5. In Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, cited by the Court, none of the three prevailing opinions garnered a majority, and some commentators have simply concluded that the state action requirement was read out of the Fifteenth Amendment on that occasion. Lewis, The Meaning of State Action, 60 Col.L.Rev. 1083, 1094 (1960); Note, The Strange Career of "State Action" Under the Fifteenth Amendment, 74 Yale L.J. 1448, 1456-1459 (1965).