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S, Spallone v. United States,

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 07 June 2023

Spallone v. United States,

493 U.S. 265 (1990), argued 2 Oct. 1989, decided 10 Jan. 1990 by vote of 5 to 4; Rehnquist for the Court, Brennan in dissent. After finding that the City of Yonkers, New York, deliberately concentrated public housing in minority neighborhoods, effectively funneling minorities into one-quarter of the city, a federal district court ordered that future public housing be dispersed. After losing on appeal, the city accepted a *consent decree that included the necessary ordinance, but the defiant city council reneged and failed to enact the ordinance. The district court held the city and the recalcitrant council members in contempt and imposed escalating daily fines. After months of political posturing, the council finally passed the ordinance when the city’s daily fines reached nearly one million dollars.

By a 5-to-4 vote, the Court, speaking through Chief Justice William H. *Rehnquist, held that the district court abused its discretion under traditional equitable principles by fining the individual council members without first allowing a reasonable time for sanctions against the city alone to obtain compliance. In dissent, Justice William J. *Brennan would have deferred to the discretion of the district judge, who was more familiar with local political realities.

The majority left open the question of whether the order against the council members violated their *First Amendment freedom of speech to vote in a particular manner. But in a subsequent decision, Bogan v. Scott-Harris (1998), the Court held that local legislators are absolutely immune from civil liability for their legitimate legislative activities, including how they vote on issues of public policy.

See also desegregation remedies; injunctions and equitable remedies; lower federal courts; segregation, de jure.

Thomas E. Baker