362 U.S. 17 (1960), 64, United States v. Raines

Docket NºNo. 64
Citation362 U.S. 17, 80 S.Ct. 519, 4 L.Ed.2d 524
Party NameUnited States v. Raines
Case DateFebruary 29, 1960
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 17

362 U.S. 17 (1960)

80 S.Ct. 519, 4 L.Ed.2d 524

United States

v.

Raines

No. 64

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 29, 1960

Argued January 12, 1960

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA

Syllabus

Under authority of R.S. § 2004, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Attorney General brought this civil action on behalf of the United States in a Federal District Court to enjoin certain public officials of the State of Georgia from discriminating against Negro citizens who desired to register to vote in elections in Georgia. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that subsection (c), which authorizes the Attorney General to bring such an action, is unconstitutional. Although the complaint involved only official actions, the Court construed subsection (c) as authorizing suits to enjoin purely private actions, and held that this went beyond the permissible scope of the Fifteenth Amendment, and that the Act must be considered unconstitutional in all its applications. On direct appeal to this Court, held: the judgment is reversed. Pp. 19-28.

1. The case is properly here on direct appeal under 28 U.S.C. §1252, since the basis of the decision below was that the Act of Congress was unconstitutional, no matter what the contentions of the parties might be as to what its proper basis should have been. P. 20.

2. The District Court erred in dismissing the complaint on the theory that the Act would exceed the permissible limits of the Fifteenth Amendment if applied to purely private actions by private persons, since that question was not properly before that Court on the record in this case. Pp. 20-24.

(a) One to whom application of a statute is constitutional will not be heard to attack it on the ground that it might also be taken as applying to other persons or other situations in which its application might be unconstitutional. P. 21.

(b) The delicate power of pronouncing an Act of Congress unconstitutional is not to be exercised with reference to hypothetical cases. P. 22.

(c) In this case, there are no countervailing considerations sufficient to warrant the District Court's action in considering the

Page 18

constitutionality of this Act in applications not presented by the facts before it. Pp. 22-24.

(d) To the extent that United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214, depended on an approach inconsistent with what this Court considers the better one and the one established by the weightiest of the subsequent cases, it cannot be followed here. P. 24.

3. Insofar as it authorizes the Attorney General to bring this action to enjoin racial discrimination by public officials in the performance of their official duties pertaining to elections, the Act is clearly constitutional. Pp. 24-28.

(a) Whatever precisely may be the reach of the Fifteenth Amendment, the conduct charged here -- discrimination by state officials, within the course of their official duties, against the voting rights of citizens, on grounds of race or color -- is certainly subject to the ban of that Amendment, and legislation designed to deal with such discrimination is "appropriate legislation" under it. P. 25.

(b) It cannot be said that appellees' action was not "state action" merely because the aggrieved parties had not exhausted their administrative or other remedies under state law, since Congress has power to provide for the correction of the constitutional violations of every state official, high and low, without regard to the presence of other authority in the State that might possibly revise their actions. P. 25.

(c) Insofar as Barney v. New York, 193 U.S. 430, points to a different conclusion, its authority has been so restricted by later decisions that it might be regarded as having been worn away by the erosion of time and of contrary authority. Pp. 25-26.

(d) It is not beyond the power of Congress to authorize the United States to bring this action to vindicate the public interest in the due observance of private constitutional rights. P. 27.

172 F.Supp. 552, reversed.

Page 19

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States brought this action in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia against the members of the Board of Registrars and certain Deputy Registrars of Terrell County, Georgia. Its complaint charged that the defendants had, through various devices, in the administration of their offices, discriminated on racial grounds against Negroes who desired to register to vote in elections conducted in the State. The complaint sought an injunction against the continuation of these discriminatory practices, and other relief.

The action was founded upon R.S. § 2004, as amended by § 131 of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, 71 Stat. 637, 42 U.S.C. § 1971. Subsections (a) and (c), which are directly involved, provide:1

[80 S.Ct. 522]

(a) All citizens of the United States who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election by the people in any State, Territory, district, county, city, parish, township, school district, municipality, or other territorial subdivision, shall be entitled and allowed to vote at all such elections, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; any constitution, law, custom, usage, or regulation of any State or Territory, or by or under its authority, to the contrary notwithstanding.

* * * *

(c) Whenever any person has engaged or there are reasonable grounds to believe that any person is

Page 20

about to engage in any act or practice which would deprive any other person of any right or privilege secured by subsection (a) . . . , the Attorney General may institute for the United States, or in the name of the United States, a civil action or other proper proceeding for preventive relief, including an application for a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order. . . .

On the defendants' motion, the District Court dismissed the complaint, holding that subsection (c) was unconstitutional. 172 F.Supp. 552. The court held that the statutory language quoted allowed the United States to enjoin purely private action designed to deprive citizens of the right to vote on account of their race or color. Although the complaint in question involved only official action, the court ruled that since, in its opinion, the statute, on its face, was susceptible of application beyond the scope permissible under the Fifteenth Amendment, it was to be considered unconstitutional in all its applications. The Government appealed directly to this Court, and we postponed the question of jurisdiction to the hearing of the case on the merits. 360 U.S. 926. Under the terms of 28 U.S.C. § 1252, the case is properly here on appeal, since the basis of the decision below in fact was that the Act of Congress was unconstitutional, no matter what the contentions of the parties might be as to what its proper basis should have been.

The very foundation of the power of the federal courts to declare Acts of Congress unconstitutional lies in the power and duty of those courts to decide cases and controversies properly before them. This was made patent in the first case here exercising that power -- "the gravest and most delicate duty that this Court is called on to perform."2 Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137, 177-

Page 21

180. This Court, as is the case with all federal courts,

has no jurisdiction to pronounce any statute, either of a state or of the United States, void, because irreconcilable with the constitution, except as it is called upon to adjudge the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies. In the exercise of that jurisdiction, it is bound by two rules, to which it has rigidly adhered: one, never to anticipate a question of constitutional law in advance of the necessity of deciding it; the other, never to formulate a rule of constitutional law broader than is required by the precise facts to which it is to be applied.

Liverpool, New York & Philadelphia S.S. Co. v. Commissioners of Emigration, 113 U.S. 33, 39. Kindred to these rules is the rule that one to whom application of a statute is constitutional will not be heard to attack the statute on the ground that impliedly it might also be taken as applying to other persons or other situations in which its application might be unconstitutional. United States v. Wurzbach, 280 U.S. 396; [80 S.Ct. 523] Heald v. District of Columbia, 259 U.S. 114, 123; Yazoo & Mississippi Valley R. Co. v. Jackson Vinegar Co., 226 U.S. 217; Collins v. Texas, 223 U.S. 288, 295-296; New York ex rel. Hatch v. Reardon, 204 U.S. 152, 160-161. Cf. Voeller v. Neilston Warehouse Co., 311 U.S. 531, 537; Carmichael v. Southern Coal & Coke Co., 301 U.S. 495, 513; Virginian R. Co. v. System Federation, 300 U.S. 515, 558; Blackmer v. United States, 284 U.S. 421, 442; Roberts & Schaefer Co. v. Emmerson, 271 U.S. 50, 54-55; Jeffrey Mfg. Co. v. Blagg, 235 U.S. 571, 576; Tyler v. Judges of the Court of Registration, 179 U.S. 405; Ashwander v. Tennessee Valley Authority, 297 U.S. 288, 347-348 (concurring opinion). In Barrows v. Jackson, 346 U.S. 249, this Court developed various reasons for this rule. Very significant is the incontrovertible proposition that it

would indeed be undesirable for this Court to consider every conceivable situation...

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  • 261 F.Supp. 545 (N.D.Tex. 1966), Civ. A. 3-1670, Ferrell v. Dallas Independent School Dist.
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    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 5th Circuit Northern District of Texas
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    ...Constitution, except as it is called upon to adjudge the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies." United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 21, 80 S.Ct. 519, 4 L.Ed.2d 524 (1960). In exercising its jurisdiction to pronounce a statute unconstitutional, a federal court must rigidl......
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    • Federal Cases United States Courts of Appeals Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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    ...are precluded from attacking the statute on grounds of vagueness and overbreadth. As the Supreme Court stated in United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 21, 80 S.Ct. 519, 522, 4 L.Ed.2d 524 (1960): " . . . one to whom application of a statute is constitutional will not be heard to attack......
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    ...L.Ed.2d 1209. [4] Hague v. C.I.O., 307 U.S. 496, 59 S.Ct. 954, 83 L.Ed. 1423; Brown v. Board of Education, supra; United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 80 S.Ct. 519, 4 L.Ed.2d8 Cir. 124 F.2d 785, 786; Francis v. Lyman, 1 Cir., 216 F.2d 583 at 586. [2] Byrd v. Sexton, supra, 277 F.2d at p. 4......
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    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Western District of Michigan
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    ...Constitution, except as it is called upon to adjudge the legal rights of litigants in actual controversies." United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 21, 80 S.Ct. 519, 4 L.Ed.2d 524 (1960). In exercising its jurisdiction to pronounce a statute unconstitutional, a federal court must rigidl......
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