#19: Commerce and Race

Our readings in this part of the course deal primarily with the changing interpretation of the Commerce Clause over time. To read these sections of the book, it would be easy to forget that the Court’s decisions on these cases took place in the context of an evolving economic, social, and political environment. An interesting illustration of this phenomenon is the Court’s decisions in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. US, 379 US 241 (1964) and Katenbach v. McClung, 379 US 297 (1964). In these cases, the Court extended the reach of the Commerce Clause to include the power to demand the desegregation of private businesses. While the legal question at issue was the extent of Congress’s power under the Commerce Clause, the actual substance of that decision was about race relations in America. Essentially, the Court marshalled the power of the Commerce Clause to reach where the 14th Amendment could not–private businesses.

Read this short piece by Jack Balkin. Consider the position of the Commerce Clause litigation in the context of the nation’s (slowly) evolving race relations.

Paper Topic #19: Over time, has the Court approached Commerce Clause cases differently when they directly implicate matters of race relations?

Suggested Reading: Spaeth, H. J. (1965). Race Relations and the Warren CourtU. Det. LJ43, 255.