343 U.S. 214 (1952), 649, Ray v. Blair

Docket Nº:No. 649
Citation:343 U.S. 214, 72 S.Ct. 654, 96 L.Ed. 894
Party Name:Ray v. Blair
Case Date:April 15, 1952
Court:United States Supreme Court

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343 U.S. 214 (1952)

72 S.Ct. 654, 96 L.Ed. 894




No. 649

United States Supreme Court

April 15, 1952

Argued March 31, 1952

Opinions filed April 15, 1952



Where a state authorizes a political party to choose its nominees for Presidential Electors in a state-controlled party primary election and to fix the qualifications for the candidates, it is not violative of the Federal Constitution for the party to require the candidates for the office of Presidential Elector to take a pledge to support the nominees of the party's National Convention for President and Vice-President or for the party's officers to refuse to certify as a candidate for Presidential Elector a person otherwise qualified who refuses to take such a pledge. Pp. 215-231.

1. Presidential Electors exercise a federal function in balloting for President and Vice-President, but they are not federal officers. They act by authority of the state, which, in turn, receives its authority from the Federal Constitution. Pp. 224-225.

2. Exclusion of a candidate in a party primary by a state or political party because such candidate will not pledge to support the party's nominees is a method of securing party candidates in the general election who are pledged to the philosophy and leadership of that party, and it is an exercise of the state's right under Art. II, § 1, to appoint electors in such manner as it may choose. United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, and Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, distinguished. Pp. 225-227.

3. The Twelfth Amendment does not bar a political party from requiring of a candidate for Presidential Elector in its primary a pledge to support the nominees of its National Convention. Pp. 228-231.

4. The requirement of such a pledge does not deny equal protection or due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U.S. 536, distinguished. P. 226, n. 14.

257 Ala. ___, 57 So.2d 395, reversed.

The Alabama Supreme Court upheld, on federal constitutional grounds, a peremptory writ of mandamus requiring petitioner, the Chairman of the State Executive

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Committee of the Democratic Party, to certify respondent as a candidate for Presidential Elector in a Democratic Primary which was to be held on May 6, 1952. 257 Ala. ___, 57 So.2d 395. This Court granted certiorari. 343 U.S. 901. In a per curiam decision announced on April 3, 1952, in advance of the preparation of this opinion, this Court reversed that judgment. 343 U.S. 154. This opinion states the reasons for that decision.

REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Supreme Court of Alabama upheld a peremptory writ of mandamus requiring the petitioner, the chairman of that state's Executive Committee of the Democratic Party, to certify respondent Edmund Blair, a member of that party, to the Secretary of Alabama as a candidate for Presidential Elector in the Democratic Primary to be held May 6, 1952. Respondent Blair was admittedly qualified as a candidate except that he refused to include the following quoted words in the pledge required of party candidates -- a pledge to aid and support "the nominees of the National Convention of the Democratic Party for President and Vice-President of the United States." The chairman's refusal of certification was based [72 S.Ct. 655] on that omission.

The mandamus was approved on the sole ground that the above requirement restricted the freedom of a federal elector to vote in his Electoral College for his choice for President. 257 Ala. ___, 57 So.2d 395. The pledge was held void as unconstitutional under the Twelfth Amendment

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of the Constitution of the United States.1 Because the mandamus was based on this federal right specially claimed by respondent, we granted certiorari. 28 U.S.C. § 1257(3); 343 U.S. 901.

On account of the limited time before the primary election date, this Court ordered prompt argument on March 31, 1952, after granting certiorari, and handed down a per curiam decision on April 3, 343 U.S. 154, stating summarily our conclusion on the federal constitutional issue that determined the Alabama judgment. This opinion is to supplement that statement. Our mandate issued forthwith.

The controversy arose under the Alabama laws permitting party primaries. Title 17 of the Code of Alabama, 1940, as amended, provides for regular optional primary elections in that state on the first Tuesday in May of even years by any political party, as defined in the

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chapter at state cost. §§ 336, 337, 340, 343. They are subject to the same penalties and punishment provisions as regular state elections. § 339. Parties may select their own committee in such manner as the governing authority of the party may desire. § 341. Section 344 provides that the chairman of the state executive committee shall certify the candidates other than those who are candidates for county offices to the Secretary of Alabama. That official, within not less than 30 days prior to the time of holding the primary elections, shall certify these names to the probate judge of any county holding an election.

Every state executive committee is given the power to fix political or other qualifications of its own members. It may determine who shall be entitled and qualified to vote in the primary election or to be a candidate therein. The qualifications of voters and candidates may vary.2

Section 348 requires a candidate to file his declaration of candidacy with the executive committee in the form prescribed by the [72 S.Ct. 656] governing body of the party. There is a provision, § 350, which reads as follows:

At the bottom of the ballot and after the name of the last candidate shall

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be printed the following, viz: "By casting this ballot, I do pledge myself to abide by the result of this primary election and to aid and support all the nominees thereof in the ensuing general election."

On consideration of these sections in other cases, the Supreme Court of Alabama has reached conclusions generally conformable to the current of authority. Section 347 has been said by the Supreme Court of Alabama in Ray v. Garner, 57 So.2d 824, 826, to give full power to the state executive committee to determine

who shall be entitled and qualified to vote in primary elections or be candidates or otherwise participate therein . . . just so such Committee action does not run afoul of some statutory or constitutional provision.

The Garner case involved a pledge adopted by the State Democratic Executive Committee for printing on the primary ballot, reading as follows:

By casting this ballot, I do pledge myself to abide by the result of this Primary Election and to aid and support all the nominees thereof in the ensuing General Elections. I do further pledge myself to aid and support the nominees of the National Convention of the Democratic Party for President and Vice-President of the United States.

57 So.2d 825. This is substantially the same pledge that created the controversy in this present case. The court also called attention approvingly to Lett v. Dennis, 221 Ala. 432, 433, 129 So. 33, 34, a case that required a candidate in the primary to follow a party requirement and make a public oath as to his vote in the past general election, where it was declared

a test by a political organization of party affiliation and party fealty is reasonable and proper to be prescribed for those participating in its primary elections

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for nomination of candidates for office.3

As to the power to prescribe tests for participation in primary elections, it was added in the Garner case (57 So.2d 826) that,

in Alabama, this prerogative is vested in the State Party Executive Committee, acting through its duly elected or chosen members. Smith v. McQueen [232 Ala. 90, 166 So. 788].4

57 So.2d 826. The McQueen case involved the

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selection of delegates to a national political convention. It was also [72 S.Ct. 657] said in Ray v. Garner concerning the voter's pledge that:

Primarily, the pledge must be germane to party membership and party elections and, while the last clause of the pledge pertains to the national party, the party in Alabama will be a part of it by sending delegates to participate in the national convention, the Executive Committee having ordered their election and the party thereby having signified its intention to become a member of the national party. Therefore, it was within the competency of the Committee to adopt the resolution so binding the voters in the primary.5

57 So.2d 826.

As is well known political parties in the modern sense were not born with the Republic. They were created by necessity, by the need to organize the rapidly increasing

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population, scattered over our Land, so as to coordinate efforts to secure needed legislation and oppose that deemed undesirable. Compare Bryce, Modern Democracies, p. 546. The party conventions of locally chosen delegates, from the county to the national level, succeeded the caucuses of self-appointed legislators or other interested individuals. Dissatisfaction with the manipulation of conventions caused that system to be largely superseded by the direct primary. This was particularly true in the South because, with the predominance of the Democratic Party in that section, the nomination was more important than the election. There primaries are generally, as in Alabama, optional.6 Various tests of party allegiance for candidates in direct primaries are found in a number of states.7 The requirement of a pledge from the candidate participating in primaries to support the nominee is not unusual.8 Such a provision [72 S.Ct...

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