Vanderbilt Law Review


David J. Garrow

First Page



When Griggs v. Duke Power Co. was unanimously handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court on March 8, 1971, the decision did not draw prominent headlines. The New York Times accorded the ruling only a two-sentence summary on page twenty-one, and the Wall Street Journal gave it modest attention on page four. The Washington Post did give the decision front-page coverage, but Gillette v. United States, a Selective Service Act case, was awarded a prominent, top-of-the-page, two-column headline while Griggs received secondary attention. Notwithstanding how modest the contemporaneous news coverage was, knowledgeable judges, scholars, and litigators quickly acknowledged how Griggs actually had an import far beyond Gillette and, at least in some eyes, also beyond a half dozen or more historically notable rulings that likewise were handed down during the first six months of 1971.9 Interviewed on July 1, 1971, just one day after the conclusion of the Supreme Court's 1970 Term, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger was asked to name "a case or two that to you stand as kind of landmarks" from his first two years on the Court. Rather than citing either the Pentagon Papers case, issued just the day before,10 or the famous school-busing case handed down on April 20,11 Burger instead responded that I think there is one case that has been commented on a great deal by others as having been . .. a "sleeper" . It was Griggs against Duke Power Company having to do with equal employment opportunities. I wouldn't want to say that was one of the terribly important cases but experts in that field of law considered it so, but it is not the kind of a case that received any public attention.