Griffin v. Breckenridge
403 U.S. 88 (1971)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88 (1971)

Griffin v. Breckenridge

No. 144

Argued January 13-14, 1971

Decided June 7, 1971

403 U.S. 88

Syllabus

Petitioners, Negro citizens of Mississippi, filed a damages action under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), charging that respondents, white citizens of Mississippi, conspired to assault petitioners, who were passengers "traveling upon the federal, state, and local highways" in an automobile driven by one Grady, a citizen of Tennessee, for the purpose of preventing them "and other Negro-Americans, through . . . force, violence and intimidation, from seeking the equal protection of the laws and from enjoying the equal rights, privileges and immunities of citizens under the laws of the United States and the State of Mississippi," including rights to free speech, assembly, association, and movement, and the right not to be enslaved. The complaint alleged that, pursuant to the conspiracy, respondents, mistakenly believing Grady to be a civil rights worker, blocked the travelers' passage on the public highways, forced them from the car, held them at bay with firearms, and, amidst threats of murder, clubbed them, inflicting serious physical injury. Section 1985(3) provides:

"If two or more persons . . . conspire or go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another, for the purpose of depriving . . . any person or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws [and] in any case of conspiracy set forth in this section, if one or more persons engaged therein do . . . any act in furtherance of the object of such conspiracy, whereby another is injured . . . or deprived of . . . any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States, the party so injured or deprived"

may have a cause of action for damages against the conspirators. The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, relying on Collins v. Hardyman,341 U. S. 651, where the Court, in order to avoid difficult constitutional questions, in effect construed § 1985(3) to reach only conspiracies under color of state law. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. Section 1985(3) does not require state action but reaches private conspiracies, such as the one alleged in the complaint here, that are aimed at invidiously discriminatory deprivation of the

Page 403 U. S. 89

equal enjoyment of rights secured to all by law, as is clearly manifested by the wording and legislative history of the statute and companion statutory provisions, and the constitutional impediments that influenced the Court's construction of the statute in Collins, supra, as is clear from more recent decisions, simply do not exist. Pp. 403 U. S. 95-103.

2. Congress had the constitutional authority to reach a private conspiracy of the sort alleged in the complaint in this case both under § 2 of the Thirteenth Amendment and under its power to protect the right of interstate travel. Pp. 104-106.

410 F.2d 817, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACK, DOUGLAS, HARLAN (except for Part V-B), BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. HARLAN, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 403 U. S. 107.

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