The Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice


Sarah Martinez


Since Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, courts continue to grapple with identifying what establishments qualify as public accommodations. More specifically, the most contested section covers places of entertainment. There is a split in interpretation regarding whether to include establishments not expressly listed. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denny v. Elizabeth Arden Salons, Inc., ruled to exclude establishments not expressly listed, applying a strict textual approach. This Court’s ruling directly undermines the Civil Rights Act’s purpose of affording equal protection by drawing arbitrary distinctions between full-service spas and other spas. The Fourth Circuit Court’s narrow interpretation of the Civil Rights Act’s public accommodations provision wrongly constricts its broad remedial purpose. The Court’s contradictory interpretations compromise the Civil Rights Act’s legitimacy. Racial discrimination requires generous applications of remedial laws like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Fourth Circuit Court’s decision in Denny diminished civil rights protections entire generations fought to attain. This Court ignored United States Supreme Court precedent necessary for a proper analysis of the public accommodation’s subsection. Additionally, the Court ignored the relevant definition of “entertainment.” The Fourth Circuit Court should have read the Civil Rights Act in accordance with its remedial purpose of redressing the harms of discrimination which perpetuate inequality against racial minorities. Denny could potentially cripple the Civil Rights Act’s protections, while setting a dangerous precedent for future cases of this nature. The United States Supreme Court should grant certiorari, reverse the Fourth Circuit Court’s decision in Denny, and reaffirm pre-existing precedent.

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