1. This Court has no jurisdiction of an appeal from the court of
appeals of the District of Columbia founded on alleged
constitutional questions so unsubstantial as to be plainly without
color of merit and frivolous. P. 271 U. S.
2. The Fifth Amendment is a limitation upon the powers of the
General government, and is not directed against individuals. P.
271 U. S.
3. The Thirteenth Amendment denouncing slavery and involuntary
servitude, that is, a condition of enforced compulsory service of
one to another, does not in other matters protect the individual
rights of persons of the negro race. Id.
4. The prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment have reference
to state action exclusively, and not to any action of private
individuals. Individual invasion of individual rights is not the
subject matter of the Amendment. Id.
5 Not by any of these Amendments, nor by §§ 1977-1979
Rev.Stats., are private lot owners prohibited from entering into
twenty-one year mutual covenants not to sell to any person of negro
blood or race. P. 271 U. S.
6. The contention that such an indenture is void as against
public policy does not involve the construction or application of
the Constitution or draw in question the construction of the above
sections of the Revised Statutes, and therefore affords no basis
for an appeal to this Court under § 250, Judicial Code, from a
decree of the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia. P.
271 U. S.
7. A contention, to constitute ground for appeal, should be
raised by the petition for appeal and assignment of errors. P.
271 U. S.
8. Mere error of a court in a judgment entered after full
hearing does not constitute a denial of due process of law.
Appeal from 55 App.D.C. 30; 299 Fed. 899; dismissed.
Appeal from a decree of the court of appeals of the District of
Columbia, which affirmed a decree of the Supreme Court of the
District in favor of Buckley in a suit to enjoin the defendant
Corrigan from selling a lot
Page 271 U. S. 324
in Washington to the defendant Curtis, in violation of an
indenture entered into by Buckley, Corrigan, and other landowners
whereby they mutually covenanted and bound themselves, their heirs
and assigns, for twenty-one years, not to sell to any person of
negro race or blood.
Page 271 U. S. 327
MR. JUSTICE SANFORD delivered the opinion of the Court.
This is a suit in equity brought by John J. Buckley in the
Supreme Court of the District of Columbia against Irene H. Corrigan
and Helen Curits to enjoin the conveyance of certain real estate
from one to the other of the defendants.
The case made by the bill is this: the parties are citizens of
the United States, residing in the District. The plaintiff and the
defendant Corrigan are white persons, and the defendant Curtis is a
person of the negro race. In 1921, thirty white persons, including
the plaintiff and the defendant Corrigan, owning twenty-five
parcels of land, improved by dwelling houses, situated on S Street,
between 18th and New Hampshire Avenue, in the City of Washington,
executed an indenture, duly recorded, in which they recited that,
for their mutual benefit and the best interests of the neighborhood
comprising these properties, they mutually covenanted and agreed
that no part of these properties should ever be used or occupied
by, or sold, leased or given to, any person of the negro race or
blood, and that this covenant should run with the land and bind
their respective heirs and assigns for twenty-one years from and
after its date.
In 1922, the defendants entered into a contract by which the
defendant Corrigan, although knowing the defendant Curtis to be a
person of the negro race, agreed to
Page 271 U. S. 328
sell her a certain lot, with dwelling house, included within the
terms of the indenture, and the defendant Curtis, although knowing
of the existence and terms of the indenture, agreed to purchase it.
The defendant Curtis demanded that this contract of sale be carried
out, and, despite the protest of other parties to the indenture,
the defendant Corrigan had stated that she would convey the lot to
the defendant Curtis.
The bill alleged that this would cause irreparable injury to the
plaintiff and the other parties to the indenture, and that the
plaintiff, having no adequate remedy at law, was entitled to have
the covenant of the defendant Corrigan specifically enforced in
equity by an injunction preventing the defendants from carrying the
contract of sale into effect, and prayed, in substance, that the
defendant Corrigan be enjoined during twenty-one years from the
date of the indenture, from conveying the lot to the defendant
Curtis, and that the defendant Curtis be enjoined from taking title
to the lot during such period, and from using or occupying it.
The defendant Corrigan moved to dismiss the bill on the grounds
that the "indenture or covenant made the basis of said bill" is (1)
"void in that the same is contrary to and in violation of the
Constitution of the United States," and (2) "is void in that the
same is contrary to public policy." And the defendant Curtis moved
to dismiss the bill on the ground that it appears therein that the
indenture or covenant
"is void in that it attempts to deprive the defendant, the said
Helen Curtis, and others of property, without due process of law;
abridges the privilege and immunities of citizens of the United
States, including the defendant Helen Curtis, and other persons
within this jurisdiction [and denies them] the equal protection of
the law, and therefore, is forbidden by the Constitution of the
United States, and especially by the Fifth, Thirteenth, and
Page 271 U. S. 329
Amendments thereof, and the laws enacted is aid and under the
sanction of the said Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments."
Both of these motions to dismiss were overruled, with leave to
answer. 52 Wash.Law Rep. 402. And the defendants having elected to
stand on their motions, a final decree was entered enjoining them
as prayed in the bill. This was affirmed, on appeal, by the court
of appeals of the District. 55 App.D.C. 30, 299 F. 899. The
defendants then prayed an appeal to this Court on the ground that
such review was authorized under the provisions of § 250 of the
Judicial Code -- as it then stood, before the amendment made by the
Jurisdictional Act of 1925 -- in that the case was one "involving
the construction or application of the Constitution of the United
States" (paragraph 3), and "in which the construction of" certain
laws of the United States, namely, §§ 1977, 1978, 1979 of the
Revised Statutes were "drawn in question" by them (par. 6). This
appeal was allowed in June, 1924.
The mere assertion that the case is one involving the
construction or application of the Constitution, and in which the
construction of federal laws is drawn in question, does not,
however, authorize this Court to entertain the appeal, and it is
our duty to decline jurisdiction if the record does not present
such a constitutional or statutory question substantial in
character and properly raised below. Sugarman v. United
States, 249 U. S. 182
249 U. S. 184
Zucht v. King, 260 U. S. 174
260 U. S. 176
And, under well settled rules, jurisdiction is wanting if such
questions are so unsubstantial as to be plainly without color of
merit and frivolous. Wilson v. North Carolina,
169 U. S. 586
169 U. S. 595
Delmar Jockey Club v. Missouri, 210 U.
, 210 U. S. 335
Binderup v. Pathe Exchange, 263 U.
, 263 U. S. 305
Moore v. New York Cotton Exchange, 270 U.
Under the pleadings in the present case, the only constitutional
question involved was that arising under the
Page 271 U. S. 330
assertions in the motions to dismiss that the indenture or
covenant which is the basis of the bill, is "void" in that it is
contrary to and forbidden by the Fifth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth
Amendments. This contention is entirely lacking in substance or
color of merit. The Fifth Amendment "is a limitation only upon the
powers of the General government," Talton v. Mayes,
163 U. S. 376
163 U. S. 382
and is not directed against the action of individuals. The
Thirteenth Amendment denouncing slavery and involuntary servitude
-- that is, a condition of enforced compulsory service of one to
another -- does not in other matters protect the individual rights
of persons of the negro race. Hodges v. United States,
203 U. S. 1
203 U. S. 16
And the prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment "have reference to
state action exclusively, and not to any action of private
individuals." Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.
, 100 U. S. 318
United States v. Harris, 106 U. S. 629
106 U. S. 639
"It is state action of a particular character that is prohibited.
Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject matter
of the Amendment." Civil Rights Cases, 109 U. S.
, 109 U. S. 11
is obvious that none of these amendments prohibited private
individuals from entering into contracts respecting the control and
disposition of their own property, and there is no color whatever
for the contention that they rendered the indenture void. And
plainly, the claim urged in this Court that they were to be looked
to, in connection with the provisions of the Revised Statutes and
the decisions of the courts, in determining the contention,
earnestly pressed, that the indenture is void as being "against
public policy" does not involve a constitutional question within
the meaning of the Code provision.
The claim that the defendants drew in question the
"construction" of §§ 1977, 1978 and 1979 of the Revised Statutes,
is equally unsubstantial. The only question raised as to these
statutes under the pleadings was the
Page 271 U. S. 331
assertion in the motion interposed by the defendant Curtis that
the indenture is void in that it is forbidden by the laws enacted
in aid and under the sanction of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth
Amendments. Assuming that this contention drew in question the
"construction" of these statutes, as distinguished from their
"application," it is obvious, upon their face that, while they
provide, inter alia,
that all persons and citizens shall
have equal right with white citizens to make contracts and acquire
property, they, like the Constitutional Amendment under whose
sanction they were enacted, do not in any manner prohibit or
invalidate contracts entered into by private individuals in respect
to the control and disposition of their own property. There is no
color for the contention that they rendered the indenture void; nor
was it claimed in this Court that they had, in and of themselves,
any such effect.
We therefore conclude that neither the constitutional nor
statutory questions relied on as grounds for the appeal to this
Court have any substantial quality or color of merit, or afford any
jurisdictional basis for the appeal.
And while it was further urged in this Court that the decrees of
the courts below in themselves deprived the defendants of their
liberty and property without due process of law, in violation of
the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, this contention likewise
cannot serve as a jurisdictional basis for the appeal. Assuming
that such a contention, if of a substantial character, might have
constituted ground for an appeal under paragraph 3 of the Code
provision, it was not raised by the petition for the appeal or by
any assignment of error, either in the court of appeals or in this
Court, and it likewise is lacking is substance. The defendants were
given a full hearing in both courts; they were not denied any
constitutional or statutory right, and there is no semblance of
ground for any contention that the decrees were so plainly
Page 271 U. S. 332
and contrary to law as to be acts of mere spoliation. See
Delmar Jockey Club v. Missouri, supra, 210 U. S. 335
Mere error of a court, if any there be, in a judgment entered after
a full hearing does not constitute a denial of due process of law.
Central Land Co. v. Laidley, 159 U.
, 159 U. S. 112
Jones v. Buffalo Creek Coal Co., 245 U.
, 245 U. S.
It results that, in the absence of any substantial
constitutional or statutory question giving us jurisdiction of this
appeal under the provisions of § 250 of the Judicial Code, we
cannot determine upon the merits the contentions earnestly pressed
by the defendants in this Court that the indenture is not only void
because contrary to public policy, but is also of such a
discriminatory character that a court of equity will not lend its
aid by enforcing the specific performance of the covenant. These
are questions involving a consideration of rules not expressed in
any constitutional or statutory provision, but claimed to be a part
of the common or general law in force in the District of Columbia;
and, plainly, they may not be reviewed under this appeal unless
jurisdiction of the case is otherwise acquired.
Hence, without a consideration of these questions, the appeal
must be, and is dismissed for want of jurisdiction.