Rivers v. Roadway Express, Inc., 511 U.S. 298, 13 (1994)

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Opinion of the Court

was to cut off, after the fact, rights of action under 1981 that had been widely recognized in the lower courts, and under which many victims of discrimination had won damages judgments prior to Patterson. See Brief for NAACP et al. as Amici Curiae 7-14.

Notwithstanding the equitable appeal of petitioners' argument, we are convinced that it cannot carry the day. Our decisions simply do not support the proposition that we have espoused a "presumption" in favor of retroactive application of restorative statutes. Petitioners invoke Frisbie v. Whitney, 9 Wall. 187 (1870), which involved a federal statute that enabled Frisbie and others to acquire property they had occupied and thought they owned prior to 1862, when, in another case, this Court held that the original grant of title by the Mexican Government was void.10 The new law in effect "restored" rights that Frisbie reasonably and in good faith thought he possessed before the surprising announcement of our decision. In the Frisbie case, however, the question was whether Congress had the power to enact legislation that had the practical effect of restoring the status quo retroactively. As the following passage from Frisbie demonstrates, there was no question about Congress' actual intent:

"We say the benefits it designed to confer, because we entertain no doubt of the intention of Congress to secure to persons situated as Frisbie was, the title to their lands, on compliance with the terms of the act, and if this has not been done it is solely because Congress

10 See United States v. Vallejo, 1 Black 541 (1862). In his dissent in that case, Justice Grier stated that he could not "agree to confiscate the property of some thousand of our fellow-citizens, who have purchased under this title and made improvements to the value of many millions, on suspicions first raised here as to the integrity of a grant universally acknowledged to be genuine in the country where it originated." Id., at 555-556 (emphasis in original).

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