System Federation v. Wright,
Annotate this Case
364 U.S. 642 (1961)
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U.S. Supreme Court
System Federation v. Wright, 364 U.S. 642 (1961)
System Federation v. Wright
Argued December 5, 1960
Decided January 16, 1961
364 U.S. 642
In 1945, when the Railway Labor Act prohibited union shop agreements between railroads and labor unions, nonunion employees of a railroad brought a suit against the railroad and certain unions of its employees which resulted in a consent decree forbidding the defendants to discriminate against nonunion employees because of their refusal to join unions. After the Act was amended in 1951 so as to permit union shop agreements between railroads and labor unions, the petitioner unions moved that the decree be modified so as not to prohibit the defendants from entering into such agreements. The District Court, which had retained jurisdiction of the suit, denied the motion.
Held: it erred in doing so. Pp. 364 U. S. 643-653.
(a) It would have been an abuse of discretion to deny modification of the injunction had it not resulted from a consent decree, since a change in the law had expressly made lawful what had theretofore been forbidden. Pennsylvania v. Wheeling & Belmont Bridge Co., 18 How. 421. Pp. 364 U. S. 646-650.
(b) A different conclusion is not required by the fact that the injunction was incorporated in a consent decree, since the decree was a judicial act, and not a mere contract between the parties. Pp. 364 U. S. 650-651.
(c) It was the Railway Labor Act, and only incidentally the parties, that the District Court served in entering the consent decree; and that Court must be free to continue to further the objectives of the Act after its provisions have been amended. Pp. 364 U. S. 651-653.
272 F.2d 56, reversed.