District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc.
Annotate this Case
346 U.S. 100 (1953)
U.S. Supreme Court
District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc., 346 U.S. 100 (1953)
District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., Inc.
Argued April 30, May 1, 1953
Decided June 8, 1953
346 U.S. 100
1. Under Art. I, § 8, cl. 17 of the Federal Constitution, Congress had power to delegate its lawmaking authority to the Legislative Assembly of the municipal corporation created by the Organic Act of 1871 for the government of the District of Columbia. Pp. 346 U. S. 104-110.
(a) The power of Congress under Art. I, § 8, cl. 17 of the Constitution to grant self-government to the District of Columbia is as great as its authority to do so in the case of territories. Pp. 346 U. S. 106-107.
(b) The power of Congress over the District of Columbia relates not only to "national power," but to all the powers of legislation which may be exercised by a state in dealing with its affairs. P. 346 U. S. 108.
(c) The Constitution does not preclude delegation by Congress to the District of Columbia of full legislative power, subject to constitutional limitations to which all lawmaking is subservient and to the power of Congress at any time to revise, alter, or revoke the authority granted. Pp. 346 U. S. 108-109.
(d) In the provision of Art. I, § 8, cl. 17 of the Constitution, empowering Congress "To exercise exclusive Legislation" over the District of Columbia, the word "exclusive" was employed to eliminate any possibility that the legislative power of Congress over the District would be deemed concurrent with that of the ceding states, and it does not make the power nondelegable. Pp. 346 U. S. 109-110.
2. Within the meaning of § 18 of the Organic Act of 1871, the "rightful subjects of legislation" to which the legislative power of the District of Columbia government extended was as broad as the police power of a state, and included a law prohibiting discriminations against Negroes by restaurants in the District of Columbia. P. 346 U. S. 110.
3. In a criminal proceeding in the District of Columbia, respondent was prosecuted for refusal to serve certain members of the Negro race at one of its restaurants in the District of Columbia solely on account of the race and color of those persons. The information was in four counts, the first charging a violation of the Act
of the Legislative Assembly of the District of Columbia, June 20, 1872, and the others charging violations of the Act of the Legislative Assembly of the District of Columbia, June 26, 1873. Each Act makes it a crime to discriminate against a person on account of race or color or to refuse service to him on that ground.
Held: the Acts of 1872 and 1873 survived subsequent changes in the government of the District of Columbia, and are presently enforceable, except that the Court does not reach the question whether the 1872 Act was repealed by the 1873 Act, and leaves that question open on remand of the cause to the Court of Appeals. Pp. 346 U. S. 110-118.
(a) The Acts of 1872 and 1873 are not inconsistent with the Acts of Congress of 1874 and 1878, and they survived the latter Acts. Pp. 346 U. S. 110-111.
(b) The Acts of 1872 and 1873 were not repealed by the Code of 1901, since, as anti-discrimination laws governing restaurants in the District, they are "police regulations" and acts "relating to municipal affairs" within the meaning of the Third exception in § 1636 of the Code. Pp. 346 U. S. 112-113.
(c) The Acts of 1872 and 1873 were not abandoned or repealed as a result of non-use and administrative practice. The failure of the executive branch to enforce a law does not result in its modification or repeal. Pp. 346 U. S. 113-115.
(d) The Acts of 1872 and 1873 merely regulate a licensed business, and (with the possible exception of the provision making mandatory the forfeiture of the license to operate a restaurant) could not be modified, altered, or repealed by the exercise of the licensing authority of the Commissioners. Pp. 346 U. S. 115-117.
(e) Cases of hardship, where criminal laws so long in disuse as to be no longer known to exist are enforced against innocent parties, do not bear on the continuing validity of the law; that is only an ameliorating factor in enforcement. P. 346 U. S. 117.
92 U.S.App.D.C. 34, 203 F.2d 579, reversed.
In a criminal prosecution in the District of Columbia on an information charging respondent with violations of Acts of 1872 and 1873 of the Legislative Assembly of the District of Columbia, the Court of Appeals held the Acts unenforceable and ordered dismissal of the information. 92 U.S. App. D. C. 34, 203 F. 2d 579. This Court granted certiorari. 345 U.S. 921. Reversed and remanded, p. 346 U. S. 118.
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