The Fourteenth Amendment, by its terms, lim-its discrimination only by governmental entities, not by private parties.1338 As the Court has noted, “the action inhibited by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is only such action as may fairly be said to be that of the States. That Amendment erects no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful.”1339 Although state action requirements also apply to other provisions of the Constitution1340 and to federal governmental actions,1341 the doctrine is most often associated with the application of the Equal Protection Clause to the states.1342
Certainly, an act passed by a state legislature that directs a discriminatory result is state action and would violate the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment.1343 In addition, acts by other branches of government “by whatever instruments or in whatever modes that action may be taken” can result in a finding of “state action.”1344 But the difficulty for the Court has been when the conduct complained of is not so clearly the action of a state. For instance, is it state action when a minor state official’s act was not authorized or perhaps was even forbidden by state law? What if a private party engages in discrimination while in a special relationship with governmental authority? “The vital requirement is State responsibility,” Justice Frankfurter once wrote, “that somewhere, somehow, to some extent, there be an infusion of conduct by officials, panoplied with State power, into any scheme” to deny protected rights.1345
The state action doctrine is not just a textual interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, but may also serve the purposes of federalism. Thus, following the Civil War, when the Court sought to reassert states’ rights, it imposed a rather rigid state action standard, limiting the circumstances under which discrimination suits could be pursued. During the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, however when almost all state action contentions were raised in a racial context, the Court generally found the presence of state action. As it grew more sympathetic to federalism concerns in the late 1970s and 1980s, the Court began to reassert a strengthened state action doctrine, primarily but hardly exclusively in non-racial cases.1346 “Careful adherence to the ‘state action’ requirement preserves an area of individual freedom by limiting the reach of federal law and federal judicial power. It also avoids imposing on the State, its agencies or officials, responsibility for conduct for which they cannot fairly be blamed. A major consequence is to require the courts to respect the limits of their own power as directed against state governments and private interests. Whether this is good or bad policy, it is a fundamental fact of our political order.”1347
Operation of the state action doctrine was critical in determining whether school systems were segregated unconstitutionally by race. The original Brown cases as well as many subsequent cases arose in the context of statutorily mandated separation of the races, and therefore the finding of state action occasioned no controversy.1348 In the South, the aftermath of the case more often involved disputes over which remedies were needed to achieve a unitary system than it did the requirements of state action.1349 But if racial segregation is not the result of state action in some aspect, then its existence is not subject to constitutional remedy.1350 Distinguishing between the two situations has occasioned much controversy.
For instance, in a case arising from a Denver, Colorado school system in which no statutory dual system had ever been imposed, the Court restated the obvious principle that de jure racial segregation caused by “intentionally segregative school board actions” is to be treated as if it had been mandated by statute, and is to be distinguished from de facto segregation arising from actions not associated with the state.1351 In addition, when it is proved that a meaningful portion of a school system is segregated as a result of official action, the responsible agency must then bear the burden of proving that other school segregation within the system is adventitious and not the result of official action.1352 Moreover, the Court has also apparently adopted a rule that if it can be proved that at some time in the past a school board has purposefully maintained a racially separated system, a continuing obligation to dismantle that system can devolve upon the agency so that so that subsequent facially neutral or ambiguous school board policies can form the basis for a judicial finding of intentional discrimination.1353
Different results follow, however, when inter-district segregation is an issue. Disregard of district lines is permissible by a federal court in formulating a desegregation plan only when it finds an inter-district violation. “Before the boundaries of separate and autonomous school districts may be set aside by consolidating the separate units for remedial purposes by imposing a cross-district remedy, it must first be shown that there has been a constitutional violation within one district that produces a significant segregative effect in another district. Specifically it must be shown that racially discriminatory acts of the state or local school districts, or of a single school district, have been a substantive cause of inter-district segregation.”1354 The de jure/de facto distinction is thus well established in school cases and is firmly grounded upon the “state action” language of the Fourteenth Amendment.
It has long been established that the actions of state officers and agents are attributable to the state. Thus, application of a federal statute imposing a criminal penalty on a state judge who excluded African-Americans from jury duty was upheld as within congressional power under the Fourteenth Amendment; the judge’s action constituted state action even though state law did not authorize him to select the jury in a racially discriminatory manner.1355 The fact that the “state action” category is not limited to situations in which state law affirmatively authorizes discriminatory action was made clearer in Yick Wo v. Hopkins,1356 in which the Court found unconstitutional state action in the discriminatory administration of an ordinance that was fair and non-discriminatory on its face. Not even the fact that the actions of the state agents are illegal under state law makes the action unattributable to the state for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. “Misuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law, is action taken ‘under color of ’ state law.”1357 When the denial of equal protection is not commanded by law or by administrative regulation but is nonetheless accomplished through police enforcement of “custom”1358 or through hortatory admonitions by public officials to private parties to act in a discriminatory manner,1359 the action is state action. In addition, when a state clothes a private party with official authority, that private party may not engage in conduct forbidden the state.1360
Beyond this are cases where a private individual discriminates, and the question is whether a state has encouraged the effort or has impermissibly aided it.1361 Of notable importance and a subject of controversy since it was decided is Shelley v. Kraemer.1362 There, property owners brought suit to enforce a racially restrictive covenant, seeking to enjoin the sale of a home by white sellers to black buyers. The covenants standing alone, Chief Justice Vinson said, violated no rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. “So long as the purposes of those agreements are effectuated by voluntary adherence to their terms, it would appear clear that there has been no action by the State and the provisions of the Amendment have not been violated.” However, this situation is to be distinguished from where “the purposes of the agreements were secured only by judicial enforcement by state courts of the restrictive terms of the agreements.”1363 Establishing that the precedents were to the effect that judicial action of state courts was state action, the Court continued to find that judicial enforcement of these covenants was forbidden. “The undisputed facts disclose that petitioners were willing purchasers of properties upon which they desire to establish homes. The owners of the properties were willing sellers; and contracts of sale were accordingly consummated. . . .”1364
Arguments about the scope of Shelley began immediately. Did the rationale mean that no private decision to discriminate could be effectuated in any manner by action of the state, as by enforcement of trespass laws or judicial enforcement of discrimination in wills? Or did it rather forbid the action of the state in interfering with the willingness of two private parties to deal with each other? Disposition of several early cases possibly governed by Shelley left this issue unanswered.1365 But the Court has experienced no difficulty in finding that state court enforcement of common-law rules in a way that has an impact upon speech and press rights is state action and triggers the application of constitutional rules.1366
It may be that the substantive rule that is being enforced is the dispositive issue, rather than the mere existence of state action. Thus, in Evans v. Abney,1367 a state court, asked to enforce a discriminatory stipulation in a will that property devised to a city for use as a public park should never be used by African-Americans, ruled that the city could not operate the park in a segregated fashion. Instead of striking the segregation requirement from the will, however, the court instead ordered return of the property to the decedent’s heirs, inasmuch as the trust had failed. The Supreme Court held the decision permissible, inasmuch as the state court had merely carried out the testator’s intent with no racial motivation itself, and distinguished Shelley on the basis that African-Americans were not discriminated against by the reversion, because everyone was deprived of use of the park.1368
The case of Reitman v. Mulkey1369 was similar to Shelley in both its controversy and the uncertainty of its rationale. In Reitman, the Court struck down an amendment to the California Constitution that prohibited the state and its subdivisions and agencies from forbidding racial discrimination in private housing. The Court, finding the provision to deny equal protection of the laws, appeared to ground its decision on either of two lines of reasoning. First was that the provision constituted state action to impermissibly encourage private racial discrimination. Second was that the provision made discriminatory racial practices immune from the ordinary legislative process, and thus impermissibly burdened minorities in the achievement of legitimate aims.1370 In a subsequent case, Hunter v. Erickson,1371 the latter rationale was used in a unanimous decision voiding an Akron ordinance, which suspended an “open housing” ordinance and provided that any future ordinance regulating transactions in real property “on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or ancestry” must be submitted to a vote of the people before it could become effective.1372
Two later decisions involving state referenda on busing for integration confirm that the condemning factor of Mulkey and Hunter was the imposition of barriers to racial amelioration legislation.1373 Both cases agree that “the simple repeal or modification of desegregation or antidiscrimination laws, without more, never has been viewed as embodying a presumptively invalid racial classification.”1374 It is thus not impermissible merely to overturn a previous governmental decision, or to defeat the effort initially to arrive at such a decision, simply because the state action may conceivably encourage private discrimination.
In other instances in which the discrimination is being practiced by private parties, the question essentially is whether there has been sufficient state involvement to bring the Fourteenth Amendment into play.1375 There is no clear formula. “Only by sifting facts and weighing circumstances can the nonobvious involvement of the State in private conduct be attributed its true significance.”1376 State action has been found in a number of circumstances. The “White Primary” was outlawed by the Court not because the party’s discrimination was commanded by statute but because the party operated under the authority of the state and the state prescribed a general election ballot made up of party nominees chosen in the primaries.1377 Although the City of Philadelphia was acting as trustee in administering and carrying out the will of someone who had left money for a college, admission to which was stipulated to be for white boys only, the city was held to be engaged in forbidden state action in discriminating against African-Americans in admission.1378 When state courts on petition of interested parties removed the City of Macon as trustees of a segregated park that had been left in trust for such use in a will, and appointed new trustees in order to keep the park segregated, the Court reversed, finding that the City was still inextricably involved in the maintenance and operation of the park.1379
In a significant case in which the Court explored a lengthy list of contacts between the state and a private corporation, it held that the lessee of property within an off-street parking building owned and operated by a municipality could not exclude African-Americans from its restaurant. The Court emphasized that the building was publicly built and owned, that the restaurant was an integral part of the complex, that the restaurant and the parking facilities complemented each other, that the parking authority had regulatory power over the lessee, and that the financial success of the restaurant benefitted the governmental agency. The “degree of state participation and involvement in discriminatory action,” therefore, was sufficient to condemn it.1380
The question arose, then, what degree of state participation was “significant”? Would licensing of a business clothe the actions of that business with sufficient state involvement? Would regulation? Or provision of police and fire protection? Would enforcement of state trespass laws be invalid if it effectuated discrimination? The “sit-in” cases of the early 1960s presented all these questions and more but did not resolve them.1381 The basics of an answer came in Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis,1382 in which the Court held that the fact that a private club was required to have a liquor license to serve alcoholic drinks and did have such a license did not bar it from discriminating against African-Americans. It denied that private discrimination became constitutionally impermissible “if the private entity receives any sort of benefit or service at all from the State, or if it is subject to state regulation in any degree whatever,” since any such rule would eviscerate the state action doctrine. Rather, “where the impetus for the discrimination is private, the State must have ‘significantly involved itself with invidious discrimination.’ ”1383 Moreover, although the state had extensive powers to regulate in detail the liquor dealings of its licensees, “it cannot be said to in any way foster or encourage racial discrimination. Nor can it be said to make the State in any realistic sense a partner or even a joint venturer in the club’s enterprise.”1384 And there was nothing in the licensing relationship here that approached “the symbiotic relationship between lessor and lessee” that the Court had found in Burton.1385
The Court subsequently made clear that governmental involvement with private persons or private corporations is not the critical factor in determining the existence of “state action.” Rather, “the inquiry must be whether there is a sufficiently close nexus between the State and the challenged action of the regulated entity so that the action of the latter may be fairly treated as that of the State itself.”1386 Or, to quote Judge Friendly, who first enunciated the test this way, the “essential point” is “that the state must be involved not simply with some activity of the institution alleged to have inflicted injury upon a plaintiff but with the activity that caused the injury. Putting the point another way, the state action, not the private action, must be the subject of the complaint.”1387 Therefore, the Court found no such nexus between the state and a public utility’s action in terminating service to a customer. Neither the fact that the business was subject to state regulation, nor that the state had conferred in effect a monopoly status upon the utility, nor that in reviewing the company’s tariff schedules the regulatory commission had in effect approved the termination provision (but had not required the practice, had “not put its own weight on the side of the proposed practice by ordering it”)1388 operated to make the utility’s action the state’s action.1389 Significantly tightening the standard further against a finding of “state action,” the Court asserted that plaintiffs must establish not only that a private party “acted under color of the challenged statute, but also that its actions are properly attributable to the State. . . .”1390 And the actions are to be attributable to the state apparently only if the state compelled the actions and not if the state merely established the process through statute or regulation under which the private party acted.
Thus, when a private party, having someone’s goods in his possession and seeking to recover the charges owned on storage of the goods, acts under a permissive state statue to sell the goods and retain his charges out of the proceeds, his actions are not governmental action and need not follow the dictates of the Due Process Clause.1391 Or, where a state workers’ compensation statute was amended to allow, but not require, an insurer to suspend payment for medical treatment while the necessity of the treatment was being evaluated by an independent evaluator, this action was not fairly attributable to the state, and thus pre-deprivation notice of the suspension was not required.1392 In the context of regulated nursing home situations, in which the homes were closely regulated and state officials reduced or withdrew Medicaid benefits paid to patients when they were discharged or transferred to institutions providing a lower level of care, the Court found that the actions of the homes in discharging or transferring were not thereby rendered the actions of the government.1393
In a few cases, the Court has indicated that discriminatory action by private parties may be precluded by the Fourteenth Amendment if the particular party involved is exercising a “public function.”1394 For instance, in Marsh v. Alabama,1395 a Jehovah’s Witness had been convicted of trespass after passing out literature on the streets of a company-owned town, but the Court reversed. It is not entirely clear from the Court’s opinion what it was that made the privately owned town one to which the Constitution applied. In essence, it appears to have been that the town “had all the characteristics of any other American town” and that it was “like” a state. “The more an owner, for his advantage, opens up his property for use by the public in general, the more do his rights become circumscribed by the statutory and constitutional rights of those who use it.”1396 A subsequent attempt to extend Marsh to privately owned shopping centers was at first successful, but was soon turned back, resulting in a sharp curtailment of the “public function” doctrine.1397
Attempts to apply this theory to other kinds of private conduct, such as operation of private utilities,1398 use of permissive state laws to secure property claimed to belong to creditors,1399 maintaining schools for “problem” children referred by public institutions,1400 provision of workers’ compensation coverage by private insurance companies,1401 and operation of nursing homes in which patient care is almost all funded by public resources,1402 proved unavailing. The question is not “whether a private group is serving a ‘public function.’ . . . That a private entity performs a function which serves the public does not make its acts state action.”1403 The “public function” doctrine is to be limited to a delegation of “a power ‘traditionally exclusively reserved to the State.’ ”1404
Public function did play an important part, however, in the Court’s finding state action in the exercise of peremptory challenges in jury selection by non-governmental parties. Using tests developed in an earlier case involving garnishment and attachment,1405 the Court found state action in the racially discriminatory use of such challenges during voir dire in a civil case.1406 The Court first asked “whether the claimed constitutional deprivation resulted from the exercise of a right or privilege having its source in state authority,” and then “whether the private party charged with the deprivation could be described in all fairness as a state actor.” In answering the second question, the Court considered three factors: “the extent to which the actor relies on governmental assistance and benefits, whether the actor is performing a traditional governmental function, and whether the injury caused is aggravated in a unique way by the incidents of governmental authority.”1407 There was no question that the exercise of peremptory challenges derives from governmental authority (either state or federal, as the case may be); exercise of peremptory challenges is authorized by law, and the number is limited. Similarly, the Court easily concluded that private parties exercise peremptory challenges with the “overt” and “significant” assistance of the court.
In addition, jury selection was found to be a traditional governmental function: the jury “is a quintessential governmental body, having no attributes of a private actor,” and it followed, so the Court majority believed, that selection of individuals to serve on that body is also a governmental function whether or not it is delegated to or shared with private individuals.1408 Finally, the Court concluded that “the injury caused by the discrimination is made more severe because the government permits it to occur within the courthouse itself.”1409 Dissenting Justice O’Connor complained that the Court was wiping away centuries of adversary practice in which “unrestrained private choice” has been recognized in exercise of peremptory challenges; “[i]t is antithetical to the nature of our adversarial process,” the Justice contended, “to say that a private attorney acting on behalf of a private client represents the government for constitutional purposes.”1410
The Court soon applied these same principles to hold that the exercise of peremptory challenges by the defense in a criminal case also constitutes state action,1411 even though in a criminal case it is the government and the defendant who are adversaries. The same generalities apply with at least equal force: there is overt and significant governmental assistance in creating and structuring the process, a criminal jury serves an important governmental function and its selection is also important, and the courtroom setting intensifies harmful effects of discriminatory actions. An earlier case1412 holding that a public defender was not a state actor when engaged in general representation of a criminal defendant was distinguished, with the Court emphasizing that “exercise of a peremptory challenge differs significantly from other actions taken in support of a defendant’s defense,” because it involves selection of persons to wield governmental power.1413
Previously, the Court’s decisions with respect to state “involvement” in the private activities of individuals and entities raised the question whether financial assistance and tax benefits provided to private parties would so clothe them with state action that discrimination by them and other conduct would be subject to constitutional constraints. Many lower courts had held state action to exist in such circumstances.1414 However the question might have been answered under prior Court holdings, it is evident that the more recent cases would not generally support a finding of state action in these cases. In Rendell-Baker v. Kohn,1415 a private school received “problem” students referred to it by public institutions, it was heavily regulated, and it received between 90 and 99% of its operating budget from public funds. In Blum v. Yaretsky,1416 a nursing home had practically all of its operating and capital costs subsidized by public funds and more than 90% of its residents had their medical expenses paid from public funds; in setting reimbursement rates, the state included a formula to assure the home a profit. Nevertheless, in both cases the Court found that the entities remained private, and required plaintiffs to show that as to the complained of actions the state was involved, either through coercion or encouragement.1417 “That programs undertaken by the State result in substantial funding of the activities of a private entity is no more persuasive than the fact of regulation of such an entity in demonstrating that the State is responsible for decisions made by the entity in the course of its business.”1418
In the social welfare area, the Court has drawn a sharp distinction between governmental action subject to substantive due process requirements, and governmental inaction, not so constrained. There being “no affirmative right to governmental aid,” the Court announced in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Social Services Department1419 that “as a general matter, . . . a State’s failure to protect an individual against private violence simply does not constitute a violation of the Due Process Clause.” Before there can be state involvement creating an affirmative duty to protect an individual, the Court explained, the state must have taken a person into its custody and held him there against his will so as to restrict his freedom to act on his own behalf. Thus, although the Court had recognized due process violations for failure to provide adequate medical care to incarcerated prisoners,1420 and for failure to ensure reasonable safety for involuntarily committed mental patients,1421 no such affirmative duty arose from the failure of social services agents to protect an abused child from further abuse from his parent. Even though possible abuse had been reported to the agency and confirmed and monitored by the agency, and the agency had done nothing to protect the child, the Court emphasized that the actual injury was inflicted by the parent and “did not occur while [the child] was in the State’s custody.”1422 Although the state may have incurred liability in tort through the negligence of its social workers, “[not] every tort committed by a state actor [is] a constitutional violation.”1423 “[I]t is well to remember . . . that the harm was inflicted not by the State of Wisconsin, but by [the child’s] father.”1424
Judicial inquiry into the existence of “state action” may lead to different results depending on what remedy is sought to be enforced. While cases may be brought against a private actor to compel him to halt his discriminatory action (for example, to enjoin him to admit blacks to a lunch counter), one could just as readily bring suit against the government to compel it to cease aiding the private actor in his discriminatory conduct. Enforcing the latter remedy might well avoid constitutional issues that an order directed to the private party would raise.1425 In either case, however, it must be determined whether the governmental involvement is sufficient to give rise to a constitutional remedy. In a suit against the private party it must be determined whether he is so involved with the government as to be subject to constitutional restraints, while in a suit against the government agency it must be determined whether the government’s action “impermissibly fostered” the private conduct.
Thus, in Norwood v. Harrison,1426 the Court struck down the provision of free textbooks by a state to racially segregated private schools (which were set up to avoid desegregated public schools), even though the textbook program predated the establishment of these schools. “[A]ny tangible state assistance, outside the generalized services government might provide to private segregated schools in common with other schools, and with all citizens, is constitutionally prohibited if it has ‘a significant tendency to facilitate, reinforce, and support private discrimination.’ . . . The constitutional obligation of the State requires it to steer clear, not only of operating the old dual system of racially segregated schools, but also of giving significant aid to institutions that practice racial or other invidious discriminations.”1427 And in a subsequent case, the Court approved a lower court order that barred the city from permitting exclusive temporary use of public recreational facilities by segregated private schools because that interfered with an outstanding order mandating public school desegregation. But it remanded for further factfinding with respect to permitting nonexclusive use of public recreational facilities and general government services by segregated private schools so that the district court could determine whether such uses “involve government so directly in the actions of those users as to warrant court intervention on constitutional grounds.”1428 The lower court was directed to sift facts and weigh circumstances on a case-by-case basis in making determinations.1429
It should be noted, however, that, without mentioning these cases, the Court has interposed a potentially significant barrier to use of the principle set out in them. In a 1976 decision, which it has since expanded, it held that plaintiffs, seeking disallowal of governmental tax benefits accorded to institutions that allegedly discriminated against complainants and thus involved the government in their actions, must show that revocation of the benefit would cause the institutions to cease the complained-of conduct.1430
- The Amendment provides that “[n]o State” and “nor shall any State” engage in the proscribed conduct. There are, of course, numerous federal statutes that prohibit discrimination by private parties. See, e.g., Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title II, 78 Stat. 241, 243, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000a et seq. These statutes, however, are generally based on Congress’s power to regulate commerce. See Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294 (1964); Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964).
- Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 13 (1948). “It is State action of a particular character that is prohibited. Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject-matter of the amendment. It has a deeper and broader scope. It nullifies and makes void all State legislation, and State action of every kind, which impairs the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, or which injures them in life, liberty or property without due process of law, or which denies to any of them the equal protection of the laws.” Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3, 11 (1883).
- The doctrine applies to other rights protected of the Fourteenth Amendment, such as privileges and immunities and failure to provide due process. It also applies to Congress’s enforcement powers under section 5 of the Amendment. For discussion of the latter, see Section 5, Enforcement, “State Action,” infra. Several other constitutional rights are similarly limited—the Fifteenth Amendment (racial discrimination in voting), the Nineteenth Amendment (sex discrimination in voting) and the Twenty-sixth Amendment (voting rights for 18-year olds)—although the Thirteenth Amendment, banning slavery and involuntary servitude, is not.
- The scope and reach of the “state action” doctrine is the same whether a state or the National Government is concerned. See CBS v. Democratic Nat’l Comm., 412 U.S. 94 (1973).
- Recently, however, because of broadening due process conceptions and the resulting litigation, issues of state action have been raised with respect to the Due Process Clause. See, e.g., Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345 (1974); Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149 (1978); Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830 (1982); Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922 (1982); Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991 (1982).
- United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 25 (1960). A prime example is the statutory requirement of racially segregated schools condemned in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). See also Peterson v. City of Greenville, 373 U.S. 244 (1963), holding that trespass convictions of African-Americans “sitting-in” at a lunch counter over the objection of the manager cannot stand because of a local ordinance commanding such separation, irrespective of the manager’s probable attitude if no such ordinance existed.
- Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339, 346 (1880). “A State acts by its legislative, its executive, or its judicial authorities. It can act in no other way. The constitutional provision, therefore, must mean that no agency of the State, or of the officers or agents by whom its powers are exerted, shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. Whoever, by virtue of public position under a State government, deprives another of property, life, or liberty, without due process of law, or denies or takes away the equal protection of the laws, violates the constitutional inhibition; and as he acts in the name and for the State, and is clothed with the State’s power, his act is that of the State.” Id. at 346–47
- Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461, 473 (1953) (concurring) (concerning the Fifteenth Amendment).
- The history of the state action doctrine makes clear that the Court has considerable discretion and that the weighing of the opposing values and interests will lead to substantially different applications of the tests. “Only by sifting facts and weighing circumstances can the nonobvious involvement of the State in private conduct be attributed its true significance.” Burton v. Wilmington Parking Auth., 365 U.S. 715, 722 (1961).
- Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 936–37 (1982). “Freedom of the individual to choose his associates or his neighbors, to use and dispose of his property as he sees fit, to be irrational, arbitrary, capricious, even unjust in his personal relations are things all entitled to a large measure of protection from governmental interference. This liberty would be overridden in the name of equality, if the structures of the amendment were applied to governmental and private action without distinction. Also inherent in the concept of state action are values of federalism, a recognition that there are areas of private rights upon which federal power should not lay a heavy hand and which should properly be left to the more precise instruments of local authority.” Peterson v. City of Greenville, 373 U.S. 244, 250 (1963) (Justice Harlan concurring).
- Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).
- See “Brown’s Aftermath,” supra.
- Compare Washington v. Seattle School Dist., 458 U.S. 457 (1982), with Crawford v. Los Angeles Bd. of Educ., 458 U.S. 527 (1982).
- “[T]he differentiating factor between de jure segregation and so-called de facto segregation . . . is purpose or intent to segregate.” Keyes v. Denver School District, 413 U.S. 189, 208 (1973) (emphasis by Court). See also Columbus Bd. of Educ. v. Penick, 443 U.S. 449, 457 n.5 (1979).
- It is not the responsibility of complainants to show that each school in a system is de jure segregated to be entitled to a system-wide desegregation plan. 413 U.S. at 208–13. The continuing validity of the Keyes shifting-of-the-burden principle, after Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229 (1976), and Dayton Bd. of Educ. v. Brinkman, 433 U.S. 406 (1977), was asserted in Columbus Bd. of Educ. v. Penick, 443 U.S. 449, 455–458 & n.7, 467–68 (1979), and Dayton Bd. of Educ. v. Brinkman, 443 U.S. 526, 540–42 (1979).
- Columbus Bd. of Educ. v. Penick, 443 U.S. 449, 458–61 (1979); Dayton Bd. of Educ. v. Brinkman, 443 U.S. 526, 534–40 (1979).
- Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717, 744–45 (1974).
- Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339 (1880). Similarly, the acts of a state governor are state actions, Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1, 16–17 (1958); Sterling v. Constantin, 287 U.S. 378, 393 (1932), as are the acts of prosecuting attorneys, Mooney v. Holohan, 294 U.S. 103, 112, 113 (1935), state and local election officials, United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299 (1941), and law enforcement officials. Griffin v. Maryland, 378 U.S. 130 (1964); Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167 (1961); Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91 (1945). One need not be an employee of the state to act “under color of ” state law; mere participation in an act with state officers suffices. United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787 (1966).
- 118 U.S. 356 (1886).
- United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326 (1941). See also Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 109 (1945) (citation omitted); Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97 (1951); United States v. Price, 383 U.S. 787 (1966). See also United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 25 (1960). As Justice Brandeis noted in Iowa-Des Moines Nat’l Bank v. Bennett, 284 U.S. 239, 246 (1931), “acts done ‘by virtue of public position under a State government . . . and . . . in the name and for the State’ . . . are not to be treated as if they were the acts of private individuals, although in doing them the official acted contrary to an express command of the state law.” Note that, for purposes of being amenable to suit in federal court, however, the immunity of the states does not shield state officers who are alleged to be engaging in illegal or unconstitutional action. Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908). Cf. Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. at 147–48. .
- Cf. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144 (1970).
- Lombard v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 267 (1963). No statute or ordinance mandated segregation at lunch counters but both the mayor and the chief of police had recently issued statements announcing their intention to maintain the existing policy of separation. Thus, the conviction of African-Americans for trespass because they refused to leave a segregated lunch counter was voided.
- Griffin v. Maryland, 378 U.S. 130 (1964). Guard at private entertainment ground was also deputy sheriff; he could not execute the racially discriminatory policies of his private employer. See also Williams v. United States, 341 U.S. 97 (1951).
- Examples already alluded to include Lombard v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 267 (1963), in which certain officials had advocated continued segregation, Peterson v. City of Greenville, 373 U.S. 244 (1963), in which there were segregation-requiring ordinances and customs of separation, and Robinson v. Florida, 378 U.S. 153 (1964), in which health regulations required separate restroom facilities in any establishment serving both races.
- 334 U.S. 1 (1948).
- 334 U.S. at 13–14.
- “These are not cases . . . in which the States have merely abstained from action, leaving private individuals free to impose such discriminations as they see fit. Rather, these are cases in which the States have made available to such individuals the full coercive power of government to deny to petitioners, on the grounds of race or color, the enjoyment of property rights in premises which petitioners are willing and financially able to acquire and which the grantors are willing to sell.” 334 U.S. at 19. In Hurd v. Hodge, 334 U.S. 24 (1948), the Court outlawed judicial enforcement of restrictive covenants in the District of Columbia as violating civil rights legislation and public policy. Barrows v. Jackson, 346 U.S. 249 (1953), held that damage actions for violations of racially restrictive covenants would not be judicially entertained.
- Rice v. Sioux City Memorial Park Cemetery, 245 Iowa 147, 60 N.W. 2d 110 (1953), aff’d by an equally divided Court, 348 U.S. 880 (1954), rehearing granted, judgment vacated and certiorari dismissed, 349 U.S. 70 (1955); Black v. Cutter Laboratories, 351 U.S. 292 (1956). The central issue in the “sit-in” cases, whether state enforcement of trespass laws at the behest of private parties acting on the basis of their own discriminatory motivations, was evaded by the Court, in finding some other form of state action and reversing all convictions. Individual Justices did elaborate, however. Compare Bell v. Maryland, 378 U.S. 226, 255–60 (1964) (opinion of Justice Douglas), with id. at 326 (Justices Black, Harlan, and White dissenting).
- In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), and progeny, defamation actions based on common-law rules were found to implicate First Amendment rights and Court imposed varying limitations on such rules. See id. at 265 (finding state action). Similarly, in NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982), a civil lawsuit between private parties, the application of state common-law rules to assess damages for actions in a boycott and picketing was found to constitute state action. Id. at 916 n.51.
- 396 U.S. 435 (1970). The matter had previously been before the Court in Evans v. Newton, 382 U.S. 296 (1966).
- 396 U.S. at 445. Note the use of the same rationale in another context in Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217, 226 (1971). On a different result in the “Girard College” will case, see Pennsylvania v. Board of Trustees, 353 U.S. 230 (1957), discussed infra.
- 387 U.S. 369 (1967). The decision was 5-to-4, Justices Harlan, Black, Clark, and Stewart dissenting. Id. at 387.
- See, e.g., 387 U.S. at 377 (language suggesting both lines of reasoning). But see City of Cuyahoga Falls v. Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, 538 U.S. 188 (2003) (ministerial acts associated with a referendum repealing a low-income housing ordinance did not constitute state action, as the referendum process was facially neutral, and the potentially discriminatory repeal was never enforced).
- 393 U.S. 385 (1969).
- In contrast, other ordinances would become effective when passed, except that petitions could be submitted to revoke those ordinances by referendum. 393 U.S. at 389–90 (1969). In Lee v. Nyquist, 318 F. Supp. 710 (W.D.N.Y. 1970), aff’d, 402 U.S. 935 (1971), New York enacted a statute prohibiting the assignment of students or the establishment of school districts for the purpose of achieving racial balance in attendance, unless with the express approval of a locally elected school board or with the consent of the parents, a measure designed to restrict the state education commissioner’s program to ameliorate de facto segregation. The federal court held the law void, relying on Mulkey to conclude that the statute encouraged racial discrimination and that by treating educational matters involving racial criteria differently than it treated other educational matters it made more difficult a resolution of the de facto segregation problem.
- Washington v. Seattle School Dist., 458 U.S. 457 (1982); Crawford v. Los Angeles Bd. of Educ., 458 U.S. 527 (1982). A five-to-four majority in Seattle found the fault to be a racially based structuring of the political process making it more difficult to undertake actions designed to improve racial conditions than to undertake any other educational action. An 8-to-1 majority in Crawford found that repeal of a measure to bus to undo de facto segregation, without imposing any barrier to other remedial devices, was permissible.
- Crawford, 458 U.S. at 539, quoted in Seattle, 458 U.S. at 483. See also Dayton Bd. of Educ. v. Brinkman, 433 U.S. 406, 414 (1977).
- Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715 (1961) (private discrimination is not constitutionally forbidden “unless to some significant extent the State in any of its manifestations has been found to have become involved in it”).
- 365 U.S. at 722.
- Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 664 (1944).
- Pennsylvania v. Board of Trustees, 353 U.S. 230 (1957). On remand, the state courts substituted private persons as trustees to carry out the will. In re Girard College Trusteeship, 391 Pa. 434, 138 A.2d 844, cert. denied, 357 U.S. 570 (1958). This expedient was, however, ultimately held unconstitutional. Brown v. Pennsylvania, 392 F.2d 120 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 391 U.S. 921 (1968).
- Evans v. Newton, 382 U.S. 296 (1966). Justices Black, Harlan, and Stewart dissented. Id. at 312, 315. For the subsequent ruling in this case, see Evans v. Abney, 396 U.S. 435 (1970).
- Burton v. Wilmington Parking Authority, 365 U.S. 715, 724 (1961).
- See, e.g., the various opinions in Bell v. Maryland, 378 U.S. 226 (1964).
- 407 U.S. 163 (1972). One provision of the state law was, however, held unconstitutional. That provision required a licensee to observe all its by-laws and therefore mandated the Moose Lodge to follow the discrimination provision of its by-laws. Id. at 177–79.
- 407 U.S. at 173.
- 407 U.S. at 176–77.
- 407 U.S. at 174–75.
- Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351 (1974) (under the Due Process Clause).
- Powe v. Miles, 407 F.2d. 73, 81 (2d Cir. 1968). See also NCAA v. Tarkanian, 488 U.S. 179 (1988) (where individual state has minimal influence over national college athletic association’s activities, the application of association rules leading to a state university’s suspending its basketball coach could not be ascribed to the state.). But see Brentwood Academy v. Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Assoc., 531 U.S. 288 (2001) (where statewide public school scholastic association is “overwhelmingly” composed of public school officials for that state, this “entwinement” is sufficient to ascribe actions of association to state).
- Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 357 (1974). In dissent, Justice Marshall protested that the quoted language marked “a sharp departure” from precedent, “that state authorization and approval of ‘private’ conduct has been held to support a finding of state action.” Id. at 369. In Cantor v. Detroit Edison Co., 428 U.S. 579 (1976), the plurality opinion used much the same analysis to deny antitrust immunity to a utility practice merely approved but not required by the regulating commission, but most of the Justices were on different sides of the same question in the two cases.
- Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 351–58 (1974). On the due process limitations on the conduct of public utilities, see Memphis Light, Gas & Water Div. v. Craft, 436 U.S. 1 (1978).
- Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 156 (1978) (due process).
- 436 U.S. at 164–66. If, however, a state officer acts with the private party in securing the property in dispute, that is sufficient to create the requisite state action and the private party may be subjected to suit if the seizure does not comport with due process. Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922 (1982).
- American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40 (1999).
- Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991 (1982).
- This rationale is one of those that emerges from various opinions in Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461 (1953) (holding that a political association limited to white voters that held internal elections to designate which of its member would run in the Texas Democratic primaries was acting as part of the state-established electoral system).
- 326 U.S. 501 (1946).
- 326 U.S. at 506.
- See Amalgamated Food Employees Union v. Logan Valley Plaza, 391 U.S. 308 (1968), limited in Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner, 407 U.S. 551 (1972), and overruled in Hudgens v. NLRB, 424 U.S. 507 (1976). The Marsh principle is good only when private property has taken on all the attributes of a municipality. Id. at 516–17.
- Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 352 (1974).
- Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 157–159 (1978).
- Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 842 (1982).
- American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40 (1999).
- Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1011–1012 (1982).
- Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 842 (1982).
- Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 157 (1978) (quoting Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 352 (1974)).
- Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Corp., 457 U.S. 922 (1982).
- Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614 (1991).
- Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614, 620–22 (1991) (citations omitted).
- 500 U.S. at 624, 625.
- 500 U.S. at 628.
- 500 U.S. at 639, 643.
- Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42 (1992). It was, of course, beyond dispute that a prosecutor’s exercise of peremptory challenges constitutes state action. See Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202 (1965); Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).
- Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 512 (1981).
- 505 U.S. at 54. Justice O’Connor, again dissenting, pointed out that the Court’s distinction was inconsistent with Dodson’s declaration that public defenders are not vested with state authority “when performing a lawyer’s traditional functions as counsel to a defendant in a criminal proceeding.” Id. at 65–66. Justice Scalia, also dissenting again, decried reduction of Edmonson “to the terminally absurd: A criminal defendant, in the process of defending himself against the state, is held to be acting on behalf of the state.” Id. at 69–70. Chief Justice Rehnquist, who had dissented in Edmonson, concurred in McCollum in the belief that it was controlled by Edmonson, and Justice Thomas, who had not participated in Edmonson, expressed similar views in a concurrence.
- On funding, see Simkins v. Moses H. Cone Memorial Hosp., 323 F.2d 959 (4th Cir. 1963), cert. denied, 376 U.S. 938 (1964); Kerr v. Enoch Pratt Free Library, 149 F.2d 212 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 326 U.S. 721 (1945); Christhilf v. Annapolis Emergency Hosp. Ass’n, 496 F.2d 174 (4th Cir. 1974). But cf. Greco v. Orange Mem. Hosp. Corp., 513 F.2d 873 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 1000 (1975). On tax benefits, see Green v. Connally, 330 F. Supp. 1150 (D.D.C.) (three-judge court), aff’d. sub nom. Coit v. Green, 404 U.S. 997 (1971);McGlotten v. Connally, 338 F. Supp. 448 (D.D.C. 1972); Jackson v. Statler Foundation, 496 F.2d 623 (2d Cir. 1974). But cf. New York City Jaycees v. United States Jaycees, 512 F.2d 856 (2d Cir. 1976); Greenya v. George Washington Univ., 512 F.2d 556 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 995 (1975).
- 457 U.S. 830 (1982).
- 457 U.S. 991 (1982).
- The rules developed by the Court for general business regulation are that (1) the “mere fact that a business is subject to state regulation does not by itself convert its action into that of the State for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1004 (1982) quoting Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 350 (1974); Cf. Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163 (1972), and (2) “a State normally can be held responsible for a private decision only when it has exercised coercive power or has provided such significant encouragement, either overt or covert, that the choice must be deemed to be that of the State.” Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 1004 (1982). To the latter point, see Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 166 (1978); Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 357 (1974).
- 457 U.S. at 1011.
- 489 U.S. 189, 197 (1989).
- Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976).
- Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307 (1982).
- 489 U.S. at 201.
- 489 U.S. at 202.
- 489 U.S. at 203.
- For example, if a Court finds a relationship between the state and a discriminating private group (which may have rights of association protected by the First Amendment), a remedy directed against the relationship might succeed, where a direction to such group to eliminate such discrimination might not. See Moose Lodge No. 107 v. Irvis, 407 U.S. 163, 179–80 (1972) (Justice Douglas dissenting); Gilmore v. City of Montgomery, 417 U.S. 556, 575 (1974); Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455, 470 (1973). The right can be implicated as well by affirmative legislative action barring discrimination in private organizations. See Runyon v. McCrary, 427 U.S. 160, 175–79 (1976).
- 413 U.S. 455 (1973).
- Gilmore v. City of Montgomery, 417 U.S. 556, 568–69 (1974) (quoting Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455, 466, 467 (1973)).
- Gilmore v. City of Montgomery, 417 U.S. 556, 570 (1974).
- Unlike the situation in which private club discrimination is attacked directly, “the question of the existence of state action centers in the extent of the city’s involvement in discriminatory actions by private agencies using public facilities. . . .” Receipt of just any sort of benefit or service at all does not by the mere provision—electricity, water, and police and fire protection, access generally to municipal recreational facilities—constitute a showing of state involvement in discrimination and the lower court’s order was too broad because not predicated upon a proper finding of state action. “If, however, the city or other governmental entity rations otherwise freely accessible recreational facilities, the case for state action will naturally be stronger than if the facilities are simply available to all comers without condition or reservation.” 417 U.S. at 573–74. See also Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991 (1982) (plaintiffs unsuccessfully sued public officials, objecting not to regulatory decision made by the officials as to Medicaid payments, but to decisions made by the nursing home in discharging and transferring patients).
- Simon v. Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Organization, 426 U.S. 26 (1976). See id. at 46, 63–64 (Justice Brennan concurring and dissenting).