Nation: Obliterating the Effect

After deciding that the public-accommodations section was constitutional, the Supreme Court turned to a less significant but more nettlesome legal problem: Could the thousands of sit-in demonstrators who had invaded the South's segregated lunch counters and been convicted under valid state antitrespass laws still be punished for acts that are now undeniably legal? The question split the court's earlier unanimity.

A five-man majority of the Justices declared that the sit-in convictions "and the command of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are clearly in direct conflict." Referring to a 1934 ruling by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the majority found precedent to...

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