380 U.S. 89 (1965), 82, Carrington v. Rash

Docket Nº:No. 82
Citation:380 U.S. 89, 85 S.Ct. 775, 13 L.Ed.2d 675
Party Name:Carrington v. Rash
Case Date:March 01, 1965
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 89

380 U.S. 89 (1965)

85 S.Ct. 775, 13 L.Ed.2d 675




No. 82

United States Supreme Court

March 1, 1965

Argued January 28, 1965



Petitioner, a member of the armed services who moved to Texas in 1962 and is concededly domiciled and intends to make his permanent home there, was refused the right to vote because of a provision of the Texas Constitution permitting a serviceman to vote only in the county where he resided at the time of entry into service.

Held: A State can impose a reasonable residence requirements for voting, but it cannot, under the Equal Protection Clause, deny the ballot to a bona fide resident merely because he is a member of the armed services. Pp. 89-97.

378 S.W.2d 304, reversed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

A provision of the Texas Constitution prohibits "[a]ny member of the Armed Forces of the United States" who moves his home to Texas during the course of his military duty from ever voting in any election in that State "so long as he or she is a member of the Armed Forces."1

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The question presented is [85 S.Ct. 777] whether this provision, as construed by the Supreme Court of Texas in the present case,2 deprives the petitioner of a right secured by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Texas decided that it does not and refused to issue a writ of mandamus ordering petitioner's local election officials to permit him to vote, two Justices dissenting. 378 S.W.2d 304. We granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 812.

The petitioner, a sergeant in the United States Army, entered the service from Alabama in 1946 at the age of 18.

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The State concedes that he has been domiciled in Texas since 1962, and that he intends to make his home there permanently. He has purchased a house in El Paso, where he lives with his wife and two children. He is also the proprietor of a small business there. The petitioner's post of military duty is not in Texas, but at White Sands, New Mexico. He regularly commutes from his home in El Paso to his Army job at White Sands. He pays property taxes in Texas, and has his automobile registered there. But for his uniform, the State concedes that the petitioner would be eligible to vote in El Paso County, Texas.

Texas has unquestioned power to impose reasonable residence restrictions of the availability of the ballot. Pope v. Williams, 193 U.S. 621. There can be no doubt either of the historic function of the States to establish, on a nondiscriminatory basis, and in accordance with the Constitution, other qualifications for the exercise of the franchise. Indeed, "[t]he States have long been held to have broad powers to determine the conditions under which the right of suffrage may be exercised." Lassiter v. Northampton County Bd. of Elections, 360 U.S. 45, 50. Compare United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299; Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651.

In other words, the privilege to vote in a state is within the jurisdiction of the state itself, to be exercised as the state may direct, and upon such terms as to it may seem proper, provided, of course, no discrimination is made between individuals, in violation of the Federal Constitution.

[85 S.Ct. 778] Pope v. Williams, supra, 193 U.S. at 632.

This Texas constitutional provision, however, is unique.3 Texas has said that no serviceman may ever

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acquire a voting residence in the State so long as he remains in service. It is true that the State has treated all members of the military with an equal hand. And mere classification, as this Court has often said, does not of itself deprive a group of equal protection. Williamson

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v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S. 483. But the fact that a State is dealing with a distinct class and treats the members of that class equally does not end the judicial inquiry.

The courts must reach and determine the question whether the classifications drawn in a statute are reasonable in light of its purpose. . . .

McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 191.

It is argued that this absolute denial of the vote to servicemen like the petitioner fulfills two purposes. First, the State says it has a legitimate interest in immunizing its elections from the concentrated balloting of military personnel, whose collective voice may overwhelm a small local civilian community. Secondly, the State says it has a valid interest in protecting the franchise from infiltration by transients, and it can reasonably assume that those servicemen who fall within the constitutional exclusion will be within the State for only a short period of time.

The theory underlying the State's first contention is that the Texas constitutional provision is necessary to prevent the danger of a "takeover" of the civilian community resulting from concentrated voting by large numbers of military personnel in bases placed near Texas towns and cities. A base commander, Texas suggests, who opposes local [85 S.Ct. 779] police administration or teaching policies in local schools might influence his men to vote in conformity with his predilections. Local bond issues may fail, and property taxes stagnate at low levels because military personnel are unwilling to invest in the future of the area. We stress -- and this a theme to be reiterated -- that Texas has the right to require that all military

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personnel enrolled to vote be bona fide residents of the community. But if they are in fact residents, with the intention of making Texas their home indefinitely, they, as all other qualified residents, have a right to an equal opportunity for political representation. Cf. Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368. "Fencing out" from the franchise a sector of the population because of the way they may vote is constitutionally impermissible. "[T]he exercise of rights so vital to the maintenance of democratic institutions," Schneider v. New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147, cannot constitutionally be obliterated because of a fear of the political views of a particular group of bona fide residents. Yet that is what Texas claims to have done here

The State's second argument is that its voting ban is justified because of the transient nature of service in the Armed Forces.4 As the Supreme Court of Texas stated:

Persons in military service are subject at all times to reassignment, and hence to a change in their actual residence . . . they do not elect to be where they are. Their reasons for being where they are . . . cannot be the same as [those of] the permanent residents.

378 S.W.2d at 306. The Texas Constitution provides that a United States citizen can become a qualified elector if he has

resided in this State one (1) year next preceding an election and the last six (6) months within the district or county


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