Johnson v. Mississippi
421 U.S. 213 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Johnson v. Mississippi, 421 U.S. 213 (1975)

Johnson v. Mississippi

No. 73-1531

Argued February 26, 1975

Decided May 12, 1975

421 U.S. 213

Syllabus

Petitioners, six Negroes, who had been picketing and urging boycott of certain business establishments in Vicksburg, Miss., because of their alleged racial discrimination in employment, were arrested with others and charged with unlawfully conspiring to bring about a boycott. Those arrested then sought removal of the prosecutions from state to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C.§ 1443(1), which provides for removal of state proceedings

"[a]gainst any person who is denied or cannot enforce in the courts of such State a right under any law providing for the equal civil rights of citizens,"

alleging that the conspiracy statutes underlying the charges were unconstitutional, that the charges were groundless, and made solely to deprive those arrested of their federally protected rights, and, more particularly, that their activities were protected by 18 U.S.C. § 245 (Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1968). Section 245(b)(5), inter alia, makes it a crime by "force or threat of force" to injure, intimidate, or interfere with any person because he has been "participating lawfully in speech or peaceful assembly" opposing racial discrimination in employment, but § 245(a)(1) provides that § 245 shall not be construed as indicating Congress' intent to prevent any State from exercising jurisdiction over any offense over which it would have jurisdiction in the absence of § 245. The District Court denied removal, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that § 245 "confers no rights whatsoever," and that a federal statute must "provide" for the equal rights of citizens before it can be invoked as a basis for removal of prosecutions under § 1443(1).

Held: Removal under § 1443(1) was not warranted based solely on petitioners' allegations that the statutes underlying the charges were unconstitutional, that there was no basis in fact for those charges, or that their arrest and prosecution otherwise denied them their constitutional rights. Georgia v. Rachel,384 U. S. 780; City of Greenwood v. Peacock,384 U. S. 808. Nor does § 245 furnish adequate basis for removal under § 1443(1). Pp. 421 U. S. 222-227.

(a) The Mississippi courts undoubtedly have jurisdiction over conspiracy and boycott cases brought under state law, and § 245(a)(1)

Page 421 U. S. 214

appears to disavow any intent to interrupt such state prosecutions, a conclusion that is also implicit in § 245's operative provisions, since § 245(b), on its face, focuses on the use of force, and its legislative history confirms that its central purpose was to prevent and punish violent interferences with the exercise of specified rights, and that it was not aimed at interrupting or frustrating the otherwise orderly processes of state law. Pp. 421 U. S. 223-227.

(b) Thus, viewed in the context of § 245's being directed at crimes of racial violence, a state prosecution, proceeding as it does in a court of law, cannot be characterized as an application of "force or threat of force" within the meaning of § 245, and, whatever "rights" that section may confer, none of them is denied by a state criminal prosecution for conspiracy or boycott, there being no "federal statutory right that no State should even attempt to prosecute [petitioners] for their conduct," Peacock, supra, at 384 U. S. 826. P. 421 U. S. 227.

(c) The absence of any evidence or legislative history indicating that Congress intended to accomplish in 18 U.S.C. § 245 what it has failed or refused to do directly through amendment to 28 U.S.C. § 1443 also necessitates rejection of the right of removal in this case, in addition to which there are other avenues of relief open to petitioners for vindication of their federal rights that may have been or will be violated. Pp. 421 U. S. 227-228.

488 F.2d 284, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 421 U. S. 229. DOUGLAS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 421 U. S. 215

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