Heart of Atlanta Motel Versus United States - Paper Example

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Sewanee University of the South
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In this case, the owner of the motel, Moreton Rollenton Jr., is accused of discrimination against blacks in his motel. The motel was strategically located in Georgia to serve motorists and travelers using highways 85, 75 (both U.S interstate highways), 23, and 41 (Georgia state highways). The 216 rooms in the motel could accommodate a good number of the long distance motorists. However, the discriminatory policy of the motel denied black motorists access to the motel leaving them no choice but to endure long hours on the road. His policy was against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which had been passed by Congress making racial discrimination in public accommodations, such as hotels and motels, illegal. Mr. Rollenton defended himself by stating that the Congress exceeded its powers in passing laws regulating interstate commerce as laid down in the Commerce Clause of the U.S Constitution. He wanted the Supreme Court to declare the Civil Rights Act of 1994 unconstitutional.

This case was of significant importance because it touched on the relationship between public accommodation law and the Thirteenth Amendment (McClain, 2011). Depending on where one stood, the former was either for or against the latter. Therefore the Supreme Court had a major interpretation to do, then make a ruling on the same. The future of public accommodation laws and other antidiscrimination laws depended so much on this case as the outcome would be used as a guide to similar cases in future.

In the contemporary situations, the Thirteenth Amendment invocations can be used to examine congressional authority on matters freedom and equality. The antidiscrimination laws protect victims but at the same time give room for those challenging them to argue their case. In this particular case, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was challenged by the motel owner on three grounds: under the Commerce Clause, the congress went overboard; his Fifth Amendment property and liberty rights and the Thirteenth Amendment rights were infringed by the Act (McClain, 2011). The three grounds were a reflection of private property rights that were thrown out by the Supreme Court and earlier on the congress in support of Title 2: that someone who used his private property to operate a business had the liberty to serve-or refuse to serve-whomever he pleased and to compel him to serve was involuntary servitude.

The US Supreme court developed the effects on interstate commerce test to determine the relationship between interstate commerce and the written law. Interstate commerce is affected by so many factors that keep changing. In the ruling, the Supreme Court stated that The power of Congress over interstate commerce is not confined to the regulation of commerce among the states. It extends to those activities intrastate which so affect interstate commerce or the exercise of the power of Congress over it as to make regulation of them appropriate means to the attainment of a legitimate end, the exercise of the granted power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce. One need only examine the evidence which we have discussed above to see that Congress mayas it hasprohibit racial discrimination by motels serving travelers, however local their operations may appear.

In the US, commerce is mostly interstate. Specific states produce specific products which are transported to other parts of the country. No state can produce all the products that are needed. The adequate infrastructure encourages this type of trade because goods can be distributed in good time throughout the country. Coupled with the high purchasing power, the large population creates a conducive environment for interstate trade. The Federal government is in charge of interstate commerce because of the several dynamics surrounding it (McClain, 2011).


Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964). (n.d.). Student's Guide to the Supreme Court. doi:10.4135/9781452240213.n88

Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States. (n.d.). Illustrated Great Decisions of the Supreme Court, 55-56. doi:10.4135/9781452240138.n17

McClain, L. C. (2011). Involuntary Servitude, Public Accommodations Laws, and the Legacy of Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States.

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