Carter v. Jury Commission of Greene County, No. 30

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation24 L.Ed.2d 549,90 S.Ct. 518,396 U.S. 320
Docket NumberNo. 30
PartiesWillie CARTER et al., Appellants, v. JURY COMMISSION OF GREENE COUNTY et al
Decision Date19 January 1970

Norman C. Amaker, New York, N.Y., for appellants.

Leslie Hall, Montgomery, Ala., for appellees.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The appellants, Negro citizens of Greene County, Alabama, commenced this class action against officials charged with the administration of the State's jury- selection laws: the county jury commissioners and their clerk, the local circuit court judge, and the Governor of Alabama. The complaint alleged that the appellants were fully qualified to serve as jurors and desired to serve, but had never been summoned for jury service. It charged that the appellees had effected a discriminatory exclusion of Negroes from grand and petit juries in Greene County—the Governor in his selection of the county jury commission, and the commissioners and judge in their arbitrary exclusion of Negroes. The complaint sought (1) a declaration that qualified Negroes were systematically excluded from Greene County grand and petit juries, that the Alabama statutes governing jury selection were unconstitutional on their face and as applied, and that the jury commission was a deliberately segregated governmental agency; (2) a permanent injunction forbidding the systematic exclusion of Negroes from Greene County juries pursuant to the challenged statutes and requiring that all eligible Negroes be placed on the jury roll; and (3) an order vacating the appointments of the jury commissioners and compelling the Governor to select new members without racial discrimination.

Alabama's jury-selection procedure is governed by statute. Ala. Code, Tit. 30, § 1 et seq. (1958 and Supp. 1967). The Governor appoints a three-member jury commission for each county. §§ 8—10. The commission employs a clerk, § 15, who is charged with the duty of obtaining the name of every citizen of the county over 21 and under 65 years of age, together with his occupation and places of residence and business. § 18. The clerk must 'scan the registration lists, the lists returned to the tax assessor, any city directories, telephone directories and any and every other source of information from which he may obtain information * * *.' § 24. He must also 'visit every precinct at least once a year to enable the jury commission to properly perform the duties required of it * * *.' Ibid.1 Once the clerk submits his list of names, the commission is under a duty to prepare a jury roll and jury box containing the names of all qualified, nonexempt citizens in the county, §§ 20, 24, who are 'generally reputed to be honest and intelligent and are esteemed in the community for their integrity, good character and sound judgment * * *.' § 21. 2 A three-judge District Court, convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281 and 2284, conducted an extensive evidentiary hearing on the appellants' complaint. The record fully supports the trial court's conclusion, set out in its detailed opinion, that the jury-selection process as it actually operated in Greene County at the outset of this litigation departed from the statutory mandate in several respects:

'The clerk does not obtain the names of all potentially eligible jurors as provided by § 18, in fact was not aware that the statute directed that this be done and knew of no way in which she could do it. The starting point each year is last year's roll. Everyone thereon is considered to be qualified and remains on the roll unless he dies or moves away (or, presumably, is convicted of a felony). New names are added to the old roll. Almost all of the work of the commission is devoted to securing names of persons suggested for consideration as new jurors. The clerk performs some duties directed toward securing such names. This is a part-time task, done without compensation, in spare time available from performance of her duties as clerk of the Circuit Court. She uses voter lists but not the tax assessor's lists. Telephone directories for some of the communities are referred to, city directories not at all since Greene County is largely rural.

'The clerk goes into each of the eleven beats or precincts annually, usually one time. Her trips out into the county for this purpose never consume a full day. At various places in the county she talks with persons she knows and secures suggested names. She is acquainted with a good many Negroes, but very few 'out in the county.' She does not know the reputation of most of the Negroes in the county. Because of her duties as clerk of the Circuit Court the names and reputations of Negroes most familiar to her are those who have been convicted of crime or have been 'in trouble.' She does not know any Negro ministers, does not seek names from any Negro or white churches or fraternal organizations. She obtains some names from the county's Negro deputy sheriff.

'The commission members also secure some names, but on a basis no more regular or formalized than the efforts of the clerk. The commissioners 'ask around,' each usually in the area of the county where he resides, and secure a few names, chiefly from white persons. Some of the names are obtained from public officials, substantially all of whom are white.

'One commissioner testified that he asked for names and that if people didn't give him names he could not submit them. He accepts pay for one day's work each year, stating that he does not have a lot of time to put on jury commission work. * * * He takes the word of those who recommend people, checks no further and sees no need to check further, considering that he is to rely on the judgment of others. He makes no inquiry or determination whether persons suggested can read or write * * *. Neither commissioners nor clerk have any social contacts with Negroes or belong to any of the same organizations.

'Through its yearly meeting in August, 1966, the jury commission met once each year usually for one day, sometimes for two, to prepare a new roll. New names presented by clerk and commissioners, and some sent in by letter, were considered. The clerk checked them against court records of felony convictions. New names decided upon as acceptable were added to the old roll. The names of those on the old roll who had died or moved away were removed.

'At the August, 1966 meeting one commissioner was new and submitted no names, white or Negro, and merely did clerical work at the meeting. Another had been ill and able to seek names little if at all. The third could remember one Negro name that he suggested. This commissioner brought the name, or names, he proposed on a trade bill he had received, and after so using it threw it away. All lists of suggested names were destroyed. As a result of that meeting the number of Negro names on the jury roll increased by 37. * * * Approximately 32 of those names came from lists given the clerk or commissioners by others. The testimony is that at the one-day August meeting the entire voter list was scanned. It contained the names of around 2,000 Negroes.

'Thus in practice, through the August, 1966 meeting the system operated exactly in reverse from what the state statutes contemplate. It produced a small group of individually selected or recommended names for consideration. Those potentially qualified but whose names were never focused upon were given no consideration. Those who prepared the roll and administered the system were white and with limited means of contact with the Negro community. Though they recognized that the most pertinent information as to which Negoes do, and which do not, meet the statutory qualifications comes from Negroes there was no meaningful procedure by which Negro names were fed into the machinery for consideration or effectual means of communication by which the knowledge possessed by the Negro community was utilized. In practice most of the work of the commission has been de- voted to the function of securing names to be considered. Once a name has come up for consideration it usually has been added to the rolls unless that person has been convicted of a felony. The function of applying the statutory criteria has been carried out only in part, or by accepting as conclusive the judgment of others, and for some criteria not at all.'3

The District Court's further findings demonstrated the impact of the selection process on the racial composition of Greene County juries. According to the 1960 census, Negroes composed threefourths of the county's population. Yet from 1961 to 1963 the largest number of Negroes ever to appear on the jury list was about 7% of the total. The court noted that in 1964 a single-judge federal district court had entered a declaratory judgment setting forth the duties of the jury commissioners and their clerk under Alabama law, instructing them not to pursue a course of conduct operating to discriminate against Negroes, forbidding them to employ numerical or proportional limitations with respect to race, and directing an examination of the jury roll for compliance with the judgment.4 Thereafter, the situation had improved only marginally. In 1966 only 82 Negroes appeared among the 471 citizens listed on the jury roll; 50% of the white male population of the county found its way to the jury roll in that year, but only 4% of the Negro.5 In 1967, following a statutory amendment, the commission added women to the jury roll. Upon the expansion of the list, Negroes composed 388 of the 1,198 potential jurors—still only 32% of the total, even though the 1967 population of the county was estimated to be about 65% Negro.6

The District Court found that 'there is invalid exclusion of Negroes on a racially discriminatory basis.' It enjoined the jury commissioners and their clerk from systematically excluding Negroes from the jury roll, and directed them 'to take prompt action to compile a jury list * * * in accordance...

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