Katzenbach v. McClung,
379 U.S. 294 (1964)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294 (1964)

Katzenbach v. McClung

No. 543

Argued October 5, 1964

Decided December 14, 1964

379 U.S. 294


Appellees, whose restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, caters to local white customers with take-out service for Negroes, serving food a substantial portion of which has moved in interstate commerce, sued to enjoin appellants from enforcing against their restaurant and others Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which they claimed was unconstitutional. A three-judge District Court granted an injunction, holding that there was no demonstrable connection between food purchased in interstate commerce and sold in a restaurant and Congress' conclusion that discrimination in the restaurant would affect commerce so as to warrant regulation of local activities to protect interstate commerce.


1. Since interference with governmental action has occurred and the constitutionality of Title II is before the Court in a companion case, the Court reaches the merits of this case by considering the complaint as an application for declaratory judgment, instead of denying relief for want of equity jurisdiction as it would ordinarily do on the ground that appellees should have waited to pursue the statutory procedures for adjudication of their rights. Pp. 379 U. S. 295-296.

2. Congress acted within its power to protect and foster commerce in extending coverage of Title II to restaurants serving food a substantial portion of which has moved in interstate commerce, since it had ample basis to conclude that racial discrimination by such restaurants burdened interstate trade. Pp. 383 U. S. 300-305.

233 F.Supp. 815, reversed

Page 379 U. S. 295

Primary Holding

Federal laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 apply not only to restaurants that serve interstate travelers but also to restaurants that use food that has traveled in interstate commerce, which must provide fully equal access to African-Americans.


In this early challenge to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Ollie McClung argued that his restaurant could not be prohibited from discriminating against African-Americans because Congress did not have power under the Commerce Clause to enact this law. His restaurant, Ollie's Barbecue, was located on a major road in Birmingham, Alabama and was close to an interstate highway. Half of its food came from outside Alabama, although its suppliers were local. It served a meaningful number of customers from outside the state.

McClung sought an audience of white families and restricted African-American clients to takeout service. He argued that his business was small and had no impact on interstate commerce, and that he did provide limited services to African-Americans. In contrast to the Heart of Atlanta Motel case heard at about the same time, McClung prevailed in federal district court and received an injunction barring the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act against Ollie's Barbecue.

Procedural History

US District Court for the Northern District of Alabama - 233 F. Supp. 815 (N.D. Ala. 1964)

Judgment for the plaintiffs, and an injunction against the enforcement of the Civil Rights of 1964 with regard to their business. The restaurant lacks a meaningful impact on interstate commerce, so it should not be subject to a law based on the Commerce Clause.



  • Tom C. Clark (Author)
  • Earl Warren
  • John Marshall Harlan II
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Potter Stewart
  • Byron Raymond White

The majority did not disagree with McClung's argument that his restaurant independently had no meaningful impact on interstate commerce. However, the Court echoed its 1942 holding in Wickard v. Filburn that the impact of an activity on interstate commerce should be measured not by the individual enterprise but by all such enterprises in the aggregate. Restaurants in general would have a significant impact on interstate commerce if they all discriminated against African-Americans, according to factual findings made by Congress that the Court took at face value. These established that groups subjected to discrimination would be less likely to travel or spend time or money in places where discrimination existed.

Once this basis was properly established, the government simply needed to show that it had a rational basis for choosing a certain means to pursue its anti-discriminatory goal. The Court quickly concluded that the Civil Rights Act was a rational way to protect interstate commerce because it could be expected to reduce the discrimination that undermined it.


  • William Orville Douglas (Author)


  • Arthur Joseph Goldberg (Author)


  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)

Case Commentary

This case is often linked with Heart of Atlanta Motel v. U.S. among the key decisions on desegregation. Both of them used the Commerce Clause rather than the Fourteenth Amendment to strike down discriminatory actions, a contrast with later jurisprudence. They are less familiar than some decisions on racial discrimination, but the government's victories in them were essential to preserving the Civil Rights Act and the hard-earned triumphs of civil rights activists. These cases made clear that the law would survive Southern challenges and shape how the region's history unfolded.

In the long term, McClung's concern about losing business by accepting African-American customers proved to be unfounded. Ollie's Barbecue outlived its owner and survived into the 21st century.

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