Apache County v. United States

Decision Date26 July 1966
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 292-66.
Citation256 F. Supp. 903
PartiesAPACHE COUNTY, Navajo County, Coconino County, and the State of Arizona, Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES of America, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia


Wallace L. Duncan, Jennings, Strouss, Salmon & Trask, Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs.

John Doar, Asst. Atty. Gen., Stephen J. Pollak, Gerald W. Jones and Louis M. Kauder, Attys. Dept. of Justice, and David G. Bress, U. S. Atty., for defendant.

Norman M. Littell, and Jerry L. Haggard, Washington, D. C., for applicants for intervention Navajo Tribe of Indians and individual members of Tribe.

Before EDGERTON, Senior Circuit Judge, LEVENTHAL, Circuit Judge, and HOLTZOFF, District Judge.


LEVENTHAL, Circuit Judge:

This is an action, the first of its kind, brought under Section 4(a) of the Voting Rights Act of 19651 by plaintiff counties and the State of Arizona for a declaratory judgment that would permit reinstatement of the operation of the literacy test which Arizona's legislature has prescribed as a requirement for voter registration.2 Specifically, plaintiffs seek a judgment declaring that this literacy test has not been "used during the five years preceding the filing of this action for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color."

The basic structure of Section 4 of the Act may be summarized briefly. The Act defines as a "test or device" "any requirement that a person as a prerequisite for voting or registration for voting (1) demonstrates the ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter." Section 4(c).3 The provisions of section 4 apply in any state or political subdivision which the Attorney General determines maintained a "test or device" on November 1, 1964, if the Director of the Census determines that less than 50% of the residents of voting age were registered as of that date or voted in the presidential election of November, 1964. Section 4(b). These determinations are effective upon publication in the Federal Register.

Such publication operates in and of itself to suspend the effectiveness of the test or device. The underlying determinations of the Attorney General and the Director of Census "shall not be reviewable in any court." Once the determinations are made the test or device involved may not be enforced unless and until a declaratory judgment is issued by this court that no such test or device has been used during the preceding five years for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color. The constitutionality of the statutory pattern was upheld in South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, 86 S.Ct. 803, 15 L.Ed.2d 769 (1966).

The operation of the Arizona literacy test has been suspended in Apache County since August 7, 1965, and in Navajo and Coconino Counties since November 19, 1965, by virtue of publications on those dates of the section 4(b) determinations of the Attorney General and Director of the Census.4 The three counties and the State filed this action on February 4, 1966. After several extensions, the United States filed an answer consenting to the entry of the declaratory judgment. The Navajo Tribe and thirty-one members of the Navajo Tribal Council (hereafter referred to collectively as "Navajos"), filed a motion to intervene. The moving papers are filed by the Tribe as parens patriae of Navajos resident in plaintiff counties, and by the individuals in behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated. These applicants urge that the action be dismissed or that the Attorney General be ordered to make a "full, impartial and complete" investigation into the use of the literacy test in the three counties. The case is before us now on plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, acquiesced in by the United States, and on the Navajos' motion to intervene.


At the outset, we reject the Navajos' contention that they are entitled to intervene as a matter of right under Rule 24(a), Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 24(a) (1) provides for intervention as of right when a statute confers an unconditional right to intervene. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 makes no express provision for intervention. It rather contemplates that the Attorney General will protect the public interest in defending section 4(a) actions. What the Navajos rely on is Rule 24(a) (2), which confers a right to intervene "when the representation of the applicant's interest by existing parties is or may be inadequate and the applicant is or may be bound by a judgment in the action."

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 created a new and drastic remedy of a public nature—automatic suspension of literacy tests in areas with less than 50% voter registration. To turn a phrase around, there is no remedy without a right. But the right enforced by this remedy is a public right, appertaining not to individual citizens, but to the United States itself—called upon by Congress, in implementing the Fifteenth Amendment, to vindicate the right of all citizens of the United States collectively to be free from discrimination in any part of the United States on account of race or color. This public right and remedy are supplementary to but analytically distinct from the individual rights of those discriminated against by or in the areas involved.

The analytical distinction between public right and private right is not to be obscured by the public interest in effective enforcement of the private right. In establishing and defining new rights and remedies in the area of civil rights, Congress has made plain its keen awareness of the significance of such refinements. Thus, in section 204 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress provided a private right and remedy, an action for injunction brought by persons aggrieved by the threat of discriminatory denial of public accommodations, and provided for appearance by the Attorney General not as initiating party but as intervenor in the private action. 42 U.S.C. § 2000a-3.

As to voting rights, the Fifteenth Amendment declares in terms that these rights of United States citizens shall not be denied or abridged by any State on account of race or color. This is self-executing, and itself invalidates state discrimination. South Carolina v. Katzenbach, supra, 383 U.S. at 325, 86 S.Ct. 803. Congress has specifically provided that a person who under color of state law deprives a United States citizen of any right secured by the Constitution and laws "shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress." R.S. § 1979, 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The Civil Rights Act of 1957 provides that if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is about to engage in a practice that would deprive a United States citizen of his right to vote without discrimination on account of race or color, "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." 42 U.S.C. § 1971(c). The authority to initiate such actions was upheld in United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17, 80 S.Ct. 519, 4 L.Ed.2d 524 (1960). Actions under the 1957 law now have certain features similar to the action before us, since amendments have provided for the United States and States to be opposing parties (1960)5 and for three-judge courts to expedite determination (1964).6

Under section 4 of the 1965 Act the action is filed in the first instance by a State or political subdivision, but it is the practical equivalent of an action to dissolve an outstanding restraint against enforcement of a "test or device"—obtained at the instance of the United States—although the restraint is in the form of a statutory suspension rather than a judicial injunction.

Applicants cannot intervene as of right in this litigation between the United States and a State on the ground of necessity to protect their private interests. No decree in this public litigation can have the effect of legally binding or concluding the Navajos in any action to enforce their individual or private rights, e. g. under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Though practical consequences to the applicants may be taken into account in considering permissive intervention, one may not intervene as a matter of right in the litigation of others unless he shows "the equivalent of being legally bound" by the decree in their case. Sam Fox Publishing Co. v. United States, 366 U.S. 683, 694, 81 S.Ct. 1309, 1315, 6 L.Ed. 2d 604 (1961).

The Government would go a step further. It argues that the spirit of the 1965 Act excludes intervention by private parties under any circumstances. We cannot agree. It is true that section 4 of the Act is structured in terms of interaction between federal and state (or local) governments. It is true, too, that speedy determination of section 4(a) suits brought by state or local governments is desirable. The very existence of this remedy reflects an awareness by Congress that the broad statutory suspension of tests may have an over-broad reach which requires corrective procedures to avoid unintended incursion on legitimate state policy. The special three-judge court has a statutory obligation to give the case precedence, 28 U.S.C. § 2284; see United States v. Griffin, 303 U.S. 226, 232, 58 S.Ct. 601, 82 L.Ed. 764 (1938).

But section 4 does not make conclusive a determination by the Attorney General that a test or device should be reinstated. Section 4(a) clearly requires that there be a judicial determination of the ultimate facts of non-discrimination in the pertinent five-year period. In contrast, another provision of section 4 expressly makes conclusive—not reviewable in any court—the determination of the Attorney General that on November 1, 1964, the State maintained a "test or device." Another illuminating contrast is provided by section 5,7 with...

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11 cases
  • Allen v. State Board of Elections Fairley v. Patterson Bunton v. Patterson Whitley v. Williams 36
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 3, 1969
    ...State seeking a declaratory judgment that its new voting laws do not have a discriminatory purpose or effect. Cf. Apache County v. United States, 256 F.Supp. 903 (D.C.D.C.1966). In the latter type of cases the substantive questions necessary for approval (i.e., discriminatory purpose or eff......
  • Democratic Nat'l Comm. v. Hobbs
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • January 27, 2020
    ...test had been used by the counties in a discriminatory fashion during the immediately preceding five years. See Apache Cty. v. United States , 256 F. Supp. 903 (D.D.C. 1966). The Navajo Nation had sought to intervene and present evidence of discrimination in the district court, but its moti......
  • City of Rome v. United States, 78-1840
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 22, 1980
    ...... The Court had earlier held in Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections , 360 U.S. 45, 79 S.Ct. 985, 3 L.Ed.2d 1072 (1959), that the use of a literacy test that was fair on its face and was not employed ...No. 1198-66 (DC Jan. 23, 1967) (one county); Elmore County, Idaho v. United States , C. A. No. 320-66 (DC Sept. 22, 1966) (one county); Apache, Navaho and Coconino Counties, Ariz. v. United States , 256 F.Supp. 903 (D.C.1966) (three counties). Three counties in New York City bailed out in ......
  • Ely v. Klahr, 548
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 7, 1971
    ...was lifted a year later on the showing that the literacy tests had not been used in a discriminatory manner. Apache County v. United States, D.C., 256 F.Supp. 903. As of last fall Yuma County was subject to the literacy test ban of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. See Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 ......
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1 books & journal articles
  • American Indians and the Fight for Equal Voting Rights.
    • United States
    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 120 No. 6, April 2011
    • April 1, 2011
    ...3, at 31. Three counties in Arizona with large Indian populations were covered by this initial ban. See Apache Cnty. v. United States, 256 F. Supp. 903, 906 (D.D.C. 1966). Congress permitted jurisdictions to "bail out" from under the Act's coverage if they could show that for the preceding ......

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