Constitutional Law-Exclusion of Negroes From Dental Society That Controls Selection of State Dental Officials Violates the Equal Protection Clause-Hawkins v. North Carolina Dental Society

Plaintiff, a licensed Negro dentist, was refused admission to the North Carolina Dental Society, a voluntary professional organization that plays a significant role both in the selecting of state dental officials and in the promotion of state dental programs. At the time the plaintiff sought admission to the Society, state statutes empowered the Society to elect the six members of the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners and to designate the dental representatives to the Medical Care Commission and the Mental Health Council. After the plaintiff brought suit to compel his admission to the Society, the Society persuaded the state legislature to amend these statutes so that any licensed dentist can be nominated for election to the Board of Dental Examiners by a petition signed by at least ten dentists. The amendments further provided that the Governor, rather than the Society, shall appoint the dental representatives to the Medical Care Commission and the Mental Health Council, after requesting recommendations from the Society. In light of these changes in the statutes, the federal district court decided to dismiss the suit since the Society no longer had any legal control over the selection of the state’s dental officials and the mere voluntary participation of a private organization in state programs is not sufficient to constitute state action. On appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, held, reversed. Since the amendments had not changed the Society’s practical control over the selection of state dental officials and since the Negro dentist was still, for all practical purposes, without a voice in state dental programs, the Society’s discriminatory exclusion of the plaintiff was deemed state action violative of the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment.