Inside the Supreme Court

Petition to Decision

Papers of Supreme Court Justices on Civil Rights Cases

David Achtenberg

Professor & Law Foundation Scholar

UMKC School of Law

Kansas City, MO 64110-2499


Petition to Decision
Home Page
(Not available)

Burrell v. McCray

426 U.S. 471(1976)
The Archive
The Justice's Papers in Archive Order
The Timeline
(Not Available)
Researcher Information
Materials for Further Research


Significance of Powell's Burrell Papers


Justice Powell's papers on Burrell v. McCray are included in this website for what they show about Justice Powell's thinking about Section 1983, rather than because the case itself is important.  Burrell is not an important case.  While it raised an important issuewhether a prisoner claiming that his constitutional rights had been violated, should be required to exhaust his administrative remedies before suing under § 1983the Burrell Court never reached that issue.  Instead it dismissed certiorari as improvidently granted, thus deciding not to decide the case at all. 

Powell's Burrell papers are included in this website because they provide important insights into Powell's thinking about § 1983—particularly his desire to reduce § 1983's scope and to overrule Monroe on the color of law issue.  (See, e.g., his July 31, 1975 memo “Limitations on § 1983” or his April 27, 1976 memo in which he indicates he would vote to overrule Monroe.)  

For that purpose, it is not necessary to give Burrell the comprehensive treatment given to cases like Monell or Owen.  Instead, this mini-case file contains a complete set of Justice Powell’s papers relating to Burrell, but contains nothing from any of the other justices' papers.  

This is not an ordinary case file.  While it contains all the documents from Justice Powell's files on Burrell, it contains no documents from the other justices' papers.  It includes an Archive Page limited to Justice Powell's papers, as well as the normal Researcher Information (although no bibliography).  Any timeline based solely on Justice Powell's papers would necessarily be incomplete, so no  Timeline is currently provided.  Instead, the Archive Page (which fortuitously presents the documents in essentially chronological order) has been expanded with somewhat more complete descriptions of each of the documents.   Readers should be able to access the documents easily through the Archive Page.