345 U.S. 461 (1953), 52, Terry v. Adams

Docket Nº:No. 52
Citation:345 U.S. 461, 73 S.Ct. 809, 97 L.Ed. 1152
Party Name:Terry v. Adams
Case Date:May 04, 1953
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 461

345 U.S. 461 (1953)

73 S.Ct. 809, 97 L.Ed. 1152




No. 52

United States Supreme Court

May 4, 1953

Argued January 16, 1953




Petitioners, qualified Negro voters of a Texas County, sued to determine the legality of their being excluded, solely because of their race and color, from voting in elections held by an Association consisting of all qualified white voters in the County. The Association held an election in each election year to select candidates for county offices to run for nomination in the official Democratic primary. The Association's elections were not governed by state laws, and did not utilize state elective machinery or funds. Candidates elected by the Association were not certified by the Association as its candidates in the Democratic primary, but filed their own names as candidates. However, for more than 60 years, the Association's county-wide candidates had invariably been nominated in the Democratic primaries and elected to office. The District Court found that the Association was a political organization or party, and that its chief object had always been to deny Negroes any voice or part in the election of county officials.


1. The combined election machinery of the Association and the Democratic Party deprives petitioners of their right to vote on account of their race and color, contrary to the Fifteenth Amendment. P. 470.

2. The case is remanded to the District Court to enter such orders and decrees as are necessary and proper under the jurisdiction it has retained under 28 U.S.C. § 2202. P. 470.

3. In exercising this jurisdiction, the District Court is left free to hold hearings to consider and determine what provisions are essential to afford Negro citizens of the County full protection from such future discriminatory election practices which deprive citizens of voting rights because of their color. P. 470.

193 F.2d 600, reversed.

For opinion of MR. JUSTICE BLACK, joined by MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE BURTON, see post, p. 462. For opinion of MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, see post, p. 470.

Page 462

For concurring opinion of MR. JUSTICE CLARK, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE REED and MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, see post, p. 477.

For dissenting opinion of MR. JUSTICE MINTON, see post, p. 484.

The District Court issued a declaratory judgment holding invalid racial discriminations in a pre-primary election in a Texas County, declined to issue an injunction, but retained jurisdiction to grant further appropriate relief. 90 F.Supp. 595. The Court of Appeals reversed. 193 F.2d 600. This Court granted certiorari. 344 U.S. 883. Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversed, and cause remanded to the District Court for further proceedings, p. 470.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE BURTON join.

In Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, we held that rules of the Democratic Party of Texas excluding Negroes from voting in the party's primaries violated the Fifteenth Amendment. While no state law directed such exclusion, our decision pointed out that many party activities were subject to considerable statutory control. This case raises questions concerning the constitutional power of a Texas county political organization called the Jaybird Democratic Association or Jaybird Party to exclude Negroes from its primaries on racial grounds. The Jaybirds deny that their racial exclusions violate the

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Fifteenth Amendment. They contend that the Amendment applies only to elections or primaries held under state regulation, that their association is not regulated by the state at all, and that it is not a political party, but a self-governing voluntary club. The District Court held the Jaybird racial discriminations invalid, and entered judgment accordingly. 90 F.Supp. 595. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that there was no constitutional or congressional bar to the admitted discriminatory exclusion of Negroes, because Jaybird's primaries were not to any extent state controlled. 193 F.2d 600. We granted certiorari. 344 U.S. 883.

There was evidence that:

The Jaybird Association or Party was organized in 1889. Its membership was then and always has been limited to white people; they are automatically members if their names appear on the official list of county voters. It has been run like other political parties, with an executive committee named from the county's voting precincts. Expenses of the party are paid by the assessment of candidates for office in its primaries. Candidates for county offices submit their names to the Jaybird Committee in accordance with the normal practice followed by regular political parties all over the country. Advertisements and posters proclaim that these candidates are running subject to the action of the Jaybird primary. While there is no legal compulsion on successful Jaybird candidates to enter Democratic primaries, they have nearly always done so, and, with few exceptions since 1889, have run and won without opposition [73 S.Ct. 811] in the Democratic primaries and the general elections that followed. Thus, the party has been the dominant political group in the county since organization, having endorsed every county-wide official elected since 1889.

It is apparent that Jaybird activities follow a plan purposefully designed to exclude Negroes from voting and,

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at the same time, to escape the Fifteenth Amendment's command that the right of citizens to vote shall neither be denied nor abridged on account of race. These were the admitted party purposes according to the following testimony of the Jaybird's president:

Q. . . . Now Mr. Adams, will you tell me specifically what is the specific purpose of holding these elections and carrying on this organization like you do?

A. Good government.

Q. Now I will ask you to state whether or not it is the opinion and policy of the Association that to carry on good government they must exclude negro citizens?

A. Well, when we started, it was, and it is still that way, I think.

Q. And then one of the purposes of your organization is for the specific purpose of excluding negroes from voting, isn't it?

A. Yes.

Q. And that is your policy?

A. Yes.

Q. I will ask you, that is the reason you hold your election in May, rather than in June or July, isn't it?

A. Yes.

Q. Because if you held it in July, you would have to abide by the statutes and the law by letting them vote?

A. They do vote in July.

Q. And if you held yours at that time, they would have to vote too, wouldn't they?

A. Why sure.

Q. And you hold it in May so they won't have to?

A. Well, they don't vote in ours, but they can vote on anybody in the July election they want to.

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Q. But you are not answering my question. My question is that you hold yours in May so you won't have to let them vote, don't you?

A. Yes.

Q. And that is your purpose?

A. Yes.

Q. And your intention?

A. Yes.

Q. And to have a vote of the white population at a time when the negroes can't vote, isn't that right?

A. That's right.

Q. That is the whole policy of your Association?

A. Yes.

Q. And that is its purpose?

A. Yes.

The District Court found that the Jaybird Association was a political organization or party; that the majority of white voters generally abide by the results of its primaries and support in the Democratic primaries the persons endorsed by the Jaybird primaries, and that the chief object of the Association has always been to deny Negroes any voice or part in the election of Fort Bend County officials.

The facts and findings bring this case squarely within the reasoning and holding of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in its two recent decisions about excluding Negroes from Democratic primaries in South Carolina. Rice v. Elmore, 165 F.2d 387, and Baskin v. Brown, 174 F.2d 391.1 South Carolina had repealed

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every trace of statutory or constitutional control of the Democratic primaries. It did this in the hope that, thereafter, the Democratic Party or Democratic "Clubs" of South Carolina would be free to continue discriminatory practices against Negroes as voters. The contention there was that the Democratic "Clubs" were mere private groups; the contention here is that the Jaybird Association is a mere private group. The Court of Appeals, in invalidating the South Carolina practices, answered these formalistic arguments by holding that no election machinery could be sustained if its purpose or effect was to deny Negroes on account of their race an effective voice in the governmental affairs of their country, state, or community. In doing so, the Court relied on the principle announced in Smith v. Allwright, supra, 321 U.S. at 664, that the constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination in voting

. . . is not to be nullified by a state through casting its electoral process in a form which permits a private organization to practice racial discrimination in the election.

The South Carolina cases are in accord with the commands of the Fifteenth Amendment and the laws passed pursuant to it. That Amendment provides as follows:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

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The Amendment bans racial discrimination in voting by both state and nation. It thus establishes a national policy, obviously applicable to the right of Negroes not to be discriminated against as voters in elections to determine public governmental policies or to select public officials, national, state, or local. Shortly after its adoption Mr. Chief Justice Waite speaking for this Court said:


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