Rivers v. Roadway Express, Inc., 511 U.S. 298, 2 (1994)

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Cite as: 511 U. S. 298 (1994)


bill that was vetoed by the President, the 1991 Act neither declares its intent to "restor[e]" protections that were limited by Patterson and other decisions nor provides that its 1981 amendment applies to all proceedings "pending on or commenced after" the date Patterson was decided, but describes its function as "expanding" the scope of relevant civil rights statutes in order to provide adequate protection to discrimination victims. Taken by itself, the fact that 101 is framed as a gloss on 1981's original "make and enforce contracts" language does not demonstrate an intent to apply the new definition to past acts. Altering statutory definitions, or adding new definitions of terms previously undefined, is a common way of amending statutes, and simply does not answer the retroactivity question. The 1991 Act's legislative history does not bridge the textual gap, since the statements that most strongly support retroactivity are found in the debates on the 1990 bill, and the statements relating specifically to 101 are conflicting and unreliable. Pp. 304-309. (c) Contrary to petitioners' argument, this Court's decisions do not espouse a "presumption" in favor of the retroactive application of restorative statutes even in the absence of clear congressional intent. Frisbie v. Whitney, 9 Wall. 187, and Freeborn v. Smith, 2 Wall. 160, distinguished. A restorative purpose may be relevant to whether Congress specifically intended a new statute to govern past conduct, but an intent to act retroactively in such cases must be based on clear evidence and may not be presumed. Since neither 101 nor the statute of which it is a part contains such evidence, and since the section creates substantive liabilities that had no legal existence before the 1991 Act was passed, 101 does not apply to preenactment conduct. Rather, Patterson provides the authoritative interpretation of the phrase "make and enforce contracts" in 1981 before the 1991 amendment went into effect. Pp. 309-314.

973 F. 2d 490, affirmed and remanded.

Stevens, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O'Connor, Souter, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Kennedy and Thomas, JJ., joined, ante, p. 286. Blackmun, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 314.

Eric Schnapper argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs were Elaine R. Jones, Charles Stephen Ralston, Cornelia T. L. Pillard, Kerry Scanlon, and Ellis Boal.


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