Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946)

Author: Justice Burton

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Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946)

MR. JUSTICE BURTON dissenting.

On the application of the interstate commerce clause of the Federal Constitution to this case, I find myself obliged to differ from the majority of the Court. I would sustain the Virginia statute against that clause. The issue is neither the desirability of the statute nor the constitutionality of racial segregation as such. The opinion of the Court does not claim that the Virginia statute, regulating seating arrangements for interstate passengers in motor vehicles, violates the Fourteenth Amendment or is in conflict with a federal statute. The Court holds this statute unconstitutional for but one reason. It holds that the burden imposed by the statute upon the nation’s interest in interstate commerce so greatly outweighs the contribution made by the statute to the state’s interest in its public welfare as to make it unconstitutional.

The undue burden upon interstate commerce thus relied upon by the Court is not complained of by the Federal Government, by any state, or by any carrier. This statute has been in effect since 1930. The carrier concerned is operating under regulations of its own which conform to the statute. The statute conforms to the policy adopted by Virginia as to steamboats (1900), electric or street cars and railroads (1902-1904).{1} Its validity has been unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. The argument relied upon by the majority of this Court to establish the undue burden of this statute on interstate commerce is the lack of uniformity between its provisions and those of the laws of other states on the subject of the racial separation of interstate passengers on motor vehicles.

If the mere diversity between the Virginia statute and comparable statutes of other states is so serious as to render the Virginia statute invalid, it probably means that the comparable statutes of those other states, being diverse from it and from each other, are equally invalid. This is especially true under that assumption of the majority which disregards sectional interstate travel between neighboring states having similar laws, to hold "that seating arrangements for the different races in interstate motor travel require a single uniform rule to promote and protect national travel." (Italics supplied.) More specifically, the opinion of the Court indicates that the laws of the 10 contiguous states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma require racial separation of passengers on motor carriers, while those of 18 other states prohibit racial separation of passengers on public carriers. On the precedent of this case, the laws of the 10 states requiring racial separation apparently can be invalidated because of their sharp diversity from the laws in the rest of the Union, or, in a lesser degree, because of their diversity from one another. Such invalidation, on the ground of lack of nationwide uniformity, may lead to questioning the validity of the laws of the 18 states now prohibiting racial separation of passengers, for those laws likewise differ sharply from laws on the same subject in other parts of the Union and, in a lesser degree, from one another. In the absence of federal law, this may eliminate state regulation of racial separation in the seating of interstate passengers on motor vehicles and leave the regulation of the subject to the respective carriers.

The present decision will lead to the questioning of the validity of statutory regulation of the seating of intrastate passengers in the same motor vehicles with interstate passengers. The decision may also result in increased lack of uniformity between regulations as to seating arrangements on motor vehicles limited to intrastate passengers in a given state and those on motor vehicles engaged in interstate business in the same state or on connecting routes.

The basic weakness in the appellant’s case is the lack of facts and findings essential to demonstrate the existence of such a serious and major burden upon the national interest in interstate commerce as to outweigh whatever state or local benefits are attributable to the statute and which would be lost by its invalidation. The Court recognizes that it serves as "the final arbiter of the competing demands of state and national interests,"{2} and that it must fairly determine, in the absence of Congressional action, whether the state statute actually imposes such an undue burden upon interstate commerce as to invalidate that statute. In weighing these competing demands, if this Court is to justify the invalidation of this statute, it must, first of all, be satisfied that the many years of experience of the state and the carrier that are reflected in this state law should be set aside. It represents the tested public policy of Virginia regularly enacted, long maintained and currently observed. The officially declared state interests, even when affecting interstate commerce, should not be laid aside summarily by this Court in the absence of Congressional action. It is only Congress that can supply affirmative national uniformity of action.

In Southern Pacific Co. v. Arizona, 325 U.S. 761, 768-770, this Court speaking through the late Chief Justice said:

In the application of these principles, some enactments may be found to be plainly within, and others plainly without, state power. But between these extremes lies the infinite variety of cases in which regulation of local matters may also operate as a regulation of commerce, in which reconciliation of the conflicting claims of state and national power is to be attained only by some appraisal and accommodation of the competing demands of the state and national interests involved.{3}

* * * *

But, in general, Congress has left it to the courts to formulate the rules thus interpreting the commerce clause in its application, doubtless because it has appreciated the destructive consequences to the commerce of the nation if their [i.e., the courts’] protection were withdrawn, . . . and has been aware that, in their application, state laws will not be invalidated without the support of relevant factual material which will "afford a sure basis" for an informed judgment.{4} . . . Meanwhile, Congress has accommodated its legislation, as have the states, to these rules as an established feature of our constitutional system. There has thus been left to the states wide scope for the regulation of matters of local state concern, even though it in some measure affects the commerce, provided it does not materially restrict the free flow of commerce across state lines, or interfere with it in matters with respect to which uniformity of regulation is of predominant national concern.

(Italics supplied.)

The above-quoted requirement of a factual establishment of "a sure basis" for an informed judgment by this Court calls for a firm and demonstrable basis of action on the part of this Court. In the record of this case there are no findings of fact that demonstrate adequately the excessiveness of the burden, if any, which the Virginia statute has imposed upon interstate commerce, during the many years since its enactment, in comparison with the resulting effect in Virginia of the invalidation of this statute.{5} The Court relies largely upon the recital of a nationwide diversity among state statutes on this subject without a demonstration of the factual situation in those states, and especially in Virginia. The Court therefore is not able in this case to make that necessary "appraisal and accommodation of the competing demands of the state and national interests involved" which should be the foundation for passing upon the validity of a state statute of long standing and of important local significance in the exercise of the state police power.

The Court makes its own further assumption that the question of racial separation of interstate passengers in motor vehicle carriers requires national uniformity of treatment, rather than diversity of treatment, at this time. The inaction of Congress is an important indication that, in the opinion of Congress, this issue is better met without nationally uniform affirmative regulation than with it. Legislation raising the issue long has been, and is now, pending before Congress, but has not reached the floor of either House.{6} The fact that 18 states have prohibited in some degree racial separation in public carriers is important progress in the direction of uniformity. The fact, however, that 10 contiguous states in some degree require, by state law, some racial separation of passengers on motor carriers indicates a different appraisal by them of the needs and conditions in those areas than in others. The remaining 20 states have not gone equally far in either direction. This recital of existing legislative diversity is evidence against the validity of the assumption by this Court that there exists today a requirement of a single uniform national rule on the subject.

It is a fundamental concept of our Constitution that, where conditions are diverse, the solution of problems arising out of them may well come through the application of diversified treatment matching the diversified needs as determined by our local governments. Uniformity of treatment is appropriate where a substantial uniformity of conditions exists.


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Chicago: Burton, "Burton, J., Dissenting," Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946) in 328 U.S. 373 328 U.S. 390–328 U.S. 394. Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024,

MLA: Burton. "Burton, J., Dissenting." Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946), in 328 U.S. 373, pp. 328 U.S. 390–328 U.S. 394. Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Burton, 'Burton, J., Dissenting' in Morgan v. Virginia, 328 U.S. 373 (1946). cited in 1946, 328 U.S. 373, pp.328 U.S. 390–328 U.S. 394. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from