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The court should not be governed merely by technical rules of law, but should appraise the facts in order to determine whether the board of trustees of a library corporation completely owned and supported from its inception by the state may be classified as representatives of the state to such an extent and in such a sense that the great restraints of the Constitution set limits to their action.
This suit is brought by Louise Kerr, a young Negress, who complains that she has been refused admission to a library training class conducted by The Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore City to prepare persons for staff positions in the Central Library and its branches. It is charged that the Library is performing a governmental function and that she was rejected in conformity with the uniform policy of the library corporation to exclude all persons of the colored race from the training school, and that by this action the State of Maryland deprives her of the equal protection of the laws in violation of Sec. 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and of the Civil Rights Act codified in 8 U.S.C.A. § 41. She asks for damages, as provided in that act, 8 U.S.C.A. § 43, for a permanent injunction prohibiting the refusal of her application, and for a declaratory judgment to establish her right to have her application considered without discrimination because of her race and color. Her father joins in the suit as a taxpayer, and asks that, if it be held that the library corporation is a private body not bound by the constitutional restraint upon state action, the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore be enjoined from making contributions to the support of the Library from the municipal funds on the ground that such contributions are ultra vires and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment since they constitute a taking of his property without due process of law. The defendants in the suit are the library corporation, nine citizens of Baltimore who constitute its board of trustees, the librarian and the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore. The defendants first named defend on two grounds: (1) That the plaintiff was not excluded from the Training School solely because of her race and color; and (2) that the Library is a private corporation, controlled and managed by the board of trustees, and does not perform any public function as a representative of the state. The municipality joins in the second defense and also denies that its appropriations to the Library are ultra vires or constitute a taking of property without due process of law. The District Judge sustained all of the defenses and dismissed the suit.
Did the district court err in dismissing Kerr’s suit against the library for violating the Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act, 8 U.S.C.S. § 41, by refusing her admission to a library training class due to her race and color?
Reversing the judgment and remanding the case, the court held that the library was an instrumentality of the State of Maryland. There was so great a degree of control over the activities and existence of the library on the part of the state that it would be unrealistic to speak of the library as a corporation entirely devoid of governmental character. Thus, the charter of the library, which empowered the board to manage the institution for a benevolent public purpose, was not to be construed to authorize them to pass a regulation that violated the spirit of the constitutional prohibition against race discrimination.