1964 December 14

Supreme Court Upholds 1964 Civil Rights Act


The case of Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, decided on this day, was a challenge to the constitutionality of the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Supreme Court unanimously held that the law was constitutional under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Title II of the law outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, such as lunch counters and hotels, and Title VII outlawed discrimination in employment. The Court acted with unusual speed in the case, rendering its decision a little more than five months after President Lyndon Johnson signed the bill into law on July 2, 1964.

The Court: “We therefore conclude that the action of the Congress in the adoption of the Act as applied here to a motel which concededly serves interstate travelers is within the power granted it by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, as interpreted by this Court for 140 years.”

Read: Todd Purdom, An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (2014)

Learn more; put the law in perspective: Hugh Davis Graham, The Civil Rights Era: The Origins and Development of National Policy, 1960–1972 (1990)

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