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Case Basics
Docket No. 
Robert Mack Bell, et al.
(for the petitioners)
(for the respondent)
(for the respondent)
(for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal)
Facts of the Case 

A group of 15-20 African-American students entered Hooper’s restaurant in Baltimore to engage in a sit-in to protest the restaurant’s refusal to serve African-American patrons. They refused to leave when requested to do so by the hostess on behalf of Mr. Hooper, the president of the corporation that owned the restaurant. Mr. Hooper called the police, who told him that they needed a warrant to be able to do anything. After Mr. Hooper swore out a warrant, the students were arrested for violating a Maryland statute prohibiting trespassing. The Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions.


Can the students’ convictions be upheld in the light of intervening state laws?

Decision: 6 votes for Bell, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

No. Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. delivered the opinion of the 6-3 majority. The Court held that, since the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions on January 9, 1962, Maryland had passed state and local laws that criminalized the conduct of Hooper’s restaurant employees in refusing to serve the students because of their race. Under these statutes, the students’ actions would not be illegal and their right to obtain service in the restaurant would be protected. The Court held that these laws supervened in this case because, although the convictions were affirmed in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the judgment was still not final as the case was before the Supreme Court. The Court reversed the ruling and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of the new laws.

Justice William O. Douglas wrote a concurring opinion in which he argued that the majority opinion should have reversed the judgment and directed the dismissal of the indictment. He wrote that the case should be decided on the merits and argued that policies allowing people to be refused service based on their race creates a second class of citizens, which the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were enacted to prevent. Justice Arthur J. Goldberg partially joined in the concurrence. In his separate concurrence, Justice Goldberg wrote that the Constitution guarantees all Americans the right to be treated equally with respect to public accommodations. He argued that the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments have the express purpose of preventing any group from being treated as second-class citizens due to their race. Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice Douglas joined in the concurrence.

Justice Hugo L. Black wrote a dissent in which he argued that the Fourteenth Amendment does not prevent the application of a state’s trespass laws in this case. He wrote that the Fourteenth Amendment does not prohibit a state from prosecuting crimes against a person or person’s property, as in the case of a trespass. Because the Fourteenth Amendment does not compel a private business owner to trade with anyone against his will, it does not prohibit a business owner from establishing rules regarding which customers he will or will not serve. Justice John M. Harlan and Justice Byron R. White joined in the dissent.

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BELL v. MARYLAND. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 25 August 2015. <>.
BELL v. MARYLAND, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, (last visited August 25, 2015).
"BELL v. MARYLAND," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 25, 2015,