Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976)

2012-08-27 22:02:34

Philadelphia in the 1970s was rife with controversy over alleged police misconduct toward minority residents. During this period, city residents brought two class-action lawsuits against the mayor and police commissioner of Philadelphia, claiming the officials allowed unconstitutional police misconduct, including arrests without probable cause and use of excessive force, through inadequate supervision of their officers. The trial court agreed, finding that the city’s existing citizen complaint procedures were inadequate and should be overhauled. The Supreme Court reversed this injunction for several reasons. First, the Court declared the plaintiffs lacked a ‘‘personal stake’’ in the outcome because the defendants in this case, the city officials, were not directly responsible for the plaintiffs’ distress, while the police officers who were responsible were not sued. Second, the lower court’s conclusion that the number of incidents of police misconduct was ‘‘unacceptably high’’ and thus unconstitutional overstated the problem, since levels of police misconduct in Philadelphia were similar to those in other major cities. Finally, the Court ruled that the injunction was an unjustified federal intrusion into the local discretion of police authority. By declining to extend federal authority to the supervision of police departments for misconduct, the Court departed most notably from previous decisions that had created federally supervised busing of schoolchildren to facilitate desegregation. This case marks an important example where concern for local independence from the federal government, a principle known as federalism, overruled the Court’s sensitivity to issues of social justice. The case became known afterward as a nearly absolute bar to individual suits against municipal police forces.


References and Further Reading

  • Baddeley, Jeffrey, Parens Patriae Suits by a State under 42 U.S.C. } 1983, Case Western Reserve Law Review 33 (1983): 431–57.
  • Council of Orgs. on Philadelphia Police Accountability and Responsibility v. Rizzo, 357 F. Supp. 1289 (E.D. Pa. 1973).
  • Note: The Changing Social Vision of Justice Blackmun, Harvard Law Review 96 (1983): 717–36.

See also Jurisdiction of the Federal Courts; Police Investigation Commissions; Police Power of the State; Race and Criminal Justice