United States v. Morrison, 529 U.S. 598, 24 (2000)

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Cite as: 529 U. S. 598 (2000)

Opinion of the Court

not concentrate power in the general government for any purpose of police government within the States' ") (quoting T. Cooley, Constitutional Limitations 294, n. 1 (2d ed. 1871)). Foremost among these limitations is the time-honored principle that the Fourteenth Amendment, by its very terms, prohibits only state action. "[T]he principle has become firmly embedded in our constitutional law that the action inhibited by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is only such action as may fairly be said to be that of the States. That Amendment erects no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful." Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U. S. 1, 13, and n. 12 (1948).

Shortly after the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, we decided two cases interpreting the Amendment's provisions, United States v. Harris, 106 U. S. 629 (1883), and the Civil Rights Cases, 109 U. S. 3 (1883). In Harris, the Court considered a challenge to 2 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871. That section sought to punish "private persons" for "conspiring to deprive any one of the equal protection of the laws enacted by the State." 106 U. S., at 639. We concluded that this law exceeded Congress' 5 power because the law was "directed exclusively against the action of private persons, without reference to the laws of the State, or their administration by her officers." Id., at 640. In so doing, we reemphasized our statement from Virginia v. Rives, 100 U. S. 313, 318 (1880), that " 'these provisions of the fourteenth amendment have reference to State action exclusively, and not to any action of private individuals.' " Harris, supra, at 639 (misquotation in Harris).

We reached a similar conclusion in the Civil Rights Cases. In those consolidated cases, we held that the public accommodation provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which applied to purely private conduct, were beyond the scope of the 5 enforcement power. 109 U. S., at 11 ("Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject-matter of the [Fourteenth] [A]mendment"). See also, e. g., Romer v.

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