Katzenbach v. McClung


Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which disallowed restaurants from racially discriminating in their customer base.  They did so by citing their authority under the interstate commerce clause, saying that the rule applied to restaurants that received food through interstate commerce.  Plaintiff owned a BBQ restaurant which only served whites, yet received their food via interstate commerce.  Plaintiff sued the US government on the grounds that Congress had exceeded their interstate commerce clause authority.  At trial, Plaintiff sought and was granted an injunction, halting enforcement of the rule.  The court held that Congress had exceeded its authority and that there was a negligible connection between the restaurant’s serving of the food and the travel of the food itself through interstate commerce so as to constitutionally justify its Congressional regulation.  The appellate court affirmed.


Can Congress Constitutionally regulate a local business under the commerce clause, where the business merely receives its goods through the transportation of interstate commerce, but serves locally?


Yes, reversed.  Congress may legitimately regulate interstate commerce where the “aggregate activity” has a “substantial” impact on interstate commerce.  Racial discrimination by local restaurants, in the aggregate, impacts interstate commerce substantially.  Even if the particular impact of this restaurant is not “substantial,” its occurrence on a broad basis will influence interstate commerce.  The court reviewed the record which supported that the practice of racial discrimination by local restaurants was a widespread practice.  The court even went so far as to examine a study which showed that spending my minority populations in localities with high levels of discrimination was substantially lower in order to support the conclusion that the aggregate impact was substantial.

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