The Warren Court (1962-1964). Seated, from left to right: Justices Tom C. Clark, Hugo L. Black, and Chief Justice Earl Warren, and Justices William O. Douglas and John Marshall Harlan, II. Standing, from left to right: Justices Byron R. White, William J. Brennan, Potter Stewart, and Arthur J. Goldberg.
President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees “full and equal enjoyment . . . of any place of public accommodation . . . without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”
Justice Tom C. Clarke
Writing for the Court, Justice Clark found that the hotel was available to transient guests, accessible to interstate highways, solicits guests from national media, and 75% of its guests are from out of state.Therefore, the policies of the Heart of Atlanta motel had a substantial effect of interstate commerce.
The Court applied the substantial effect test, and found that “the power of Congress to promote interstate commerce also includes the power to regulate the local incidents thereof, including local activities in both the States of origin and destination, which might have a substantial and harmful effect upon that commerce.”
“How obstructions in commerce may be removed -- what means are to be employed -- is within the sound and exclusive discretion of the Congress. It is subject only to one caveat -- that the means chosen by it must be reasonably adapted to the end permitted by the Constitution. We cannot say that its choice here was not so adapted.”
In Heart of Atlanta Motel, only Justice William O. Douglas would have based the Civil Rights Act of 1964 on Congress’s Section 5 powers. Such a basis, he thought would make it unnecessary to litigate “whether a particular restaurant or inn is within the commerce definitions of the Act or whether a particular customer is an interstate traveler.” Because such a construction “would apply to all customers in all the enumerated places of public accommodation,” he contended, it “would put an end to all obstructionist strategies, and finally close one door on a bitter chapter in American history.”
Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment
Implied Powers on the Warren Court
The Heart of Atlanta Motel refused to rent rooms to African-American patrons. Its owner challenged the constitutionality of Title II. He argued that Congress lacked the power to prohibit segregation in a local motel.
The Warren Court unanimously rejected this claim. Justice Clark’s majority opinion was based on the substantial effects test: “[T]he power of Congress to promote interstate commerce also includes the power to regulate the local incidents thereof, including local activities in both the States of origin and destination, which might have a substantial and harmful effect upon that commerce.” Clark found that the motel was available to travelers and solicited customers from the national media. Indeed, 75 percent of its guests were from out of state. Therefore, the motel’s segregationist policies, though local, had a substantial effect on interstate commerce.