VIRGINIA V. RIVES, 100 U. S. 313 (1880)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313 (1880)

Virginia v. Rives

100 U.S. 313


1. Sect. 641 of the Revised Statutes, which provides for the removal into the federal court of any civil suit or prosecution

"commenced in any state court for any cause whatsoever against any person who is denied or cannot enforce in the judicial tribunals of the State, or in the part of the State where such suit or prosecution is pending, any right secured to him by any law providing for the equal civil rights of citizens of the United States,"

&c., examined in connection with sects. 1977 and 1978. Held, that the object of these statutes, as of the Constitution which authorized them, was to place, in respect to civil rights, the colored race upon a level with the white. They made the rights and responsibilities, civil and criminal, of the two races exactly the same.

2. The prohibitions of the Fourteenth Amendment have exclusive reference to State action. It is the State which is prohibited from denying to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, and, consequently, the statutes founded upon the Amendment, and partially enumerating what civil rights the colored man shall enjoy equally with the white are intended for protection against State infringement of those rights. Sect. 641 was also intended to protect them against State action, and against that alone.

3. A State may exert her authority through different agencies, and those prohibitions extend to her action denying equal protection of the laws, whether it be action by one of these agencies or by another. Congress, by virtue of the fifth section of the Fourteenth Amendment, may enforce the prohibitions whenever they are disregarded by either the Legislative, the Executive, or the Judicial Department of the State. The mode of enforcement is left to its discretion. It may secure the right, that is, enforce its recognition, by removing the case from a State court, in which it is denied, into a federal court, where it will be acknowledged.

4. But the Fourteenth Amendment is broader than sect. 641, as the latter does not apply to all cases in which the equal protection of the laws may be denied to a defendant. The removal thereby authorized is before trial or final hearing. But the violation of the constitutional prohibitions, when committed by the judicial action of a State, may be, and generally will be, after the trial or final hearing has commenced. It is during the trial or final hearing the defendant is denied equality of legal protection, and not until then. Nor can he know until then that the equal protection of the laws will not be extended to him. Certainly not until then can he affirm that it is denied. To such a case -- that is, to judicial infractions of the constitutional amendment after the trial has commenced -- sect. 641 has no applicability. It was not intended to reach such cases. They were left to the revisory power of this Court.

5. Therefore, the denial or inability to enforce in the judicial tribunals of a State rights secured to a defendant by any law providing for the equal civil rights of all persons citizens of the United States, of which sect. 641 speaks, is primarily, if not exclusively, a denial of such rights, or an inability to enforce them, resulting from the Constitution or laws of the State, rather

Page 100 U. S. 314

than a denial made manifest at the trial of the case. In other words, the statute has reference to a legislative denial, or an inability resulting from it. By express requirement of the statute, the party must set forth under oath the facts upon which he bases his claim to have his case removed, not merely his belief that he cannot enforce his rights at a subsequent stage of the proceedings. But, in the absence of constitutional or legislative impediment, he cannot swear before his case comes to trial that his enjoyment of his civil rights is denied to him.

6. The Constitution and laws of Virginia do not exclude colored citizens from service on juries. The petition for removal did not present a case under sect. 641.

7. The defendant moved in the State court that the venire be so modified that one-third or some portion of the jury should be composed of his own race. The denial of that motion was not a denial of a right secured to him by any law providing for the equal civil rights of citizens of the United States, or by any statute, or by the Fourteenth Amendment. A mixed jury in a particular case is not essential to the equal protection of the laws. It is a right to which any colored man is entitled that, in the selection of jurors to pass upon his life, liberty, or property, there shall be no exclusion of his race and no discrimination against them because of his color. But that is a different thing from that which was claimed, as of right, and denied in the State court -- viz., a right to have the jury composed in part of colored men.

8. A mandamus does not lie to control judicial discretion except when that discretion has been abused. But it may be used as a remedy where the case is outside of that discretion and outside the jurisdiction of the court or officer to which or to whom the writ is directed. One of its peculiar and more common uses is to restrain inferior courts and keep them within their lawful bound.

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