Palmer v. Thompson
403 U.S. 217 (1971)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Palmer v. Thompson, 403 U.S. 217 (1971)

Palmer v. Thompson

No. 107

Argued December 14, 1970

Decided June 14, 1971

403 U.S. 217


Following the Court of Appeals' affirmance of a District Court judgment invalidating enforced segregation on equal protection grounds, the city council of Jackson, Mississippi, desegregated its public recreational facilities, including its five public parks, except for their swimming pools. Stating that the pools could not be operated safely and economically on an integrated basis, the council closed four city-owned pools and surrendered its lease on a fifth, which the lessor, the YMCA, continued to operate for whites only. Petitioners, Negro citizens of Jackson, then brought this action, mainly on equal protection grounds, to force the city to reopen and operate the pools on a desegregated basis. The District Court held that there was no denial of equal protection. The Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting the contention that, since the pools had been closed to avoid desegregation there was a denial of equal protection.


1. The closing of the pools to all persons did not constitute a denial of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Negroes. Pp. 403 U. S. 219-226.

(a) This case is distinguishable from Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, 377 U. S. 218, and Reitman v. Mulkey, 387 U. S. 369, on both of which petitioners rely. In Griffin, there were many facets of state involvement in the segregated operation of "private" schools; here there is no city involvement in the operation or funding of any pool. In Reitman, the evidence was deemed sufficient to show that the State, by enacting a constitutional amendment establishing the right of private persons to discriminate in realty transactions, thereby repealing two housing anti-discrimination laws, was abetting refusal to rent apartments on racial grounds; here there was no evidence that the city conspired with the YMCA that its pool be segregated. Pp. 403 U. S. 221-224.

(b) In this case, where there was substantial evidence to support the council's stated reason for closing the pools and there

Page 403 U. S. 218

was no evidence of state action affecting Negroes differently from white, petitioners' contention that equal protection requirements were violated because the pool-closing decision was motivated by anti-integration considerations must also fail, since courts will not invalidate legislation based solely on asserted illicit motivation by the enacting legislative body. Pp. 403 U. S. 224-226.

2. The city council's action in closing the pools, instead of keeping them open on an integrated basis, did not create a "badge or incident" of slavery in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment. Pp. 403 U. S. 226-227.

419 F.2d 1222, affirmed.

BLACK, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and HARLAN, STEWART, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., post, p. 403 U. S. 227, and BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 403 U. S. 228, filed concurring opinions. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 403 U. S. 231. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 403 U. S. 240. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and WHITE, JJ., joined, post, p. 403 U. S. 271.

Primary Holding
A city may choose not to operate desegregated facilities if its decision appears neutral on its face.
The city council of Jackson, Mississippi desegregated its public recreational facilities pursuant to a court order that prohibited enforcing segregation. The exceptions were the swimming pools in the city public parks, which the council believed could not be operated safely and economically if they were integrated. The council chose to close four of these pools, which resulted in a lawsuit by African-American residents of the city to compel the pools to be reopened and integrated. The lower courts ruled that the closure of the pools did not violate the Equal Protection Clause.



  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • John Marshall Harlan II
  • Potter Stewart
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun

Ascertaining the motivations of the city council is nearly impossible, and all races were equally affected by closing the pools. A city does not have an affirmative duty to operate swimming pools for its residents. It is possible that the city council decided to close the pools so that they would not be available to African-Americans, but there is also ample justification for the stated reason for closing the pools, which is that they could not be integrated safely and economically. An equal protection claim would arise only if the pools were opened to only one race.


  • William Orville Douglas (Author)

While a city does not have an affirmative duty to operate swimming pools, it cannot close them in order to resist the objective of integration. It is reasonable to infer that a racial motivation was responsible for the closure, and this is unconstitutional because it facilities the perpetuation of impermissible segregation.


  • Byron Raymond White (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Thurgood Marshall


  • Thurgood Marshall (Author)
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White


  • Warren Earl Burger (Author)


  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)

Case Commentary

Closing a pool affects all residents of a city, so there is no disparate treatment. Whether there was intent to discriminate is not material if there was no impact felt.

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