Dunn v. Blumstein 8212 13

Decision Date21 March 1972
Docket NumberNo. 70,70
Citation92 S.Ct. 995,405 U.S. 330,31 L.Ed.2d 274
PartiesWinfield DUNN, Governor of the State of Tennessee, et al., Appellants, v. James F. BLUMSTEIN. —13
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Tennessee closes its registration books 30 days before an election, but requires residence in the State for one year and in the county for three months as prerequisites for registration to vote. Appellee challenged the constitutionality of the durational residence requirements, and a three-judge District Court held them unconstitutional on the grounds that they impermissibly interfered with the right to vote and created a 'suspect' classification penalizing some Tennessee residents because of recent interstate movement. Tennessee asserts that the requirements are needed to insure the purity of the ballot box and to have knowledgeable voters. Held: The durational residence requirements are violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as they are not necessary to further a compelling state interest. Pp. 335—336.

(a) Since the requirements deny some citizens the right to vote, 'the Court must determine whether the exclusions are necessary to promote a compelling state interest.' Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15, 395 U.S. 621, 627, 89 S.Ct. 1886, 1890, 23 L.Ed.2d 583 (emphasis added). Pp. 336—337.

(b) Absent a compelling state interest, Tennessee may not burden the right to travel by penalizing those bona fide residents who have recently traveled from one jurisdiction to another. Pp. 338—342.

(c) A period of 30 days appears to be ample to complete whatever administrative tasks are needed to prevent fraud and insure the purity of the ballot box. Pp. 345—349.

(d) Since there are adequate means of ascertaining bona fide residence on an individualized basis, the State may not conclusively presume nonresidence from failure to satisfy the waiting-period requirements of durational residence laws. Pp. 349 354.

(e) Tennessee has not established a sufficient relationship between its interest in an informed electorate and the fixed durational residence requirements. Pp. 354—360.


Robert H. Roberts, Nashville, Tenn., for appellants.

James F. Blumstein, pro se.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

Various Tennessee public officials (hereinafter Tennessee) appeal from a decision by a three-judge federal court holding that Tennessee's durational residence requirements for voting violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The issue arises in a class action for declaratory and injunctive relief brought by appellee James Blumstein. Blumstein moved to Tennessee on June 12, 1970, to begin employment as an assistant professor of law at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. With an eye toward voting in the upcoming August and November elections, he attempted to register to vote on July 1, 1970. The county registrar refused to register him, on the ground that Tennessee law authorizes the registration of only those persons who, at the time of the next election, will have been residents of the State for a year and residents of the county for three months.

After exhausting state administrative remedies, Blumstein brought this action challenging these residence re- quirements on federal constitutional grounds. 1 A three-judge court, convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281, 2284, concluded that Tennessee's durational residence requirements were unconstitutional (1) because they impermissibly interfered with the right to vote and (2) because they created a 'suspect' classification penalizing some Tennessee residents because of recent interstate movement.2 Blumstein v. Ellington, 337 F.Supp. 323 (MD Tenn.1970). We noted probable jurisdiction, 401 U.S. 934, 91 S.Ct. 920, 28 L.Ed.2d 213 (1971). For the reasons that follow, we affirm the decision below.3


The subject of this lawsuit is the durational residence requirement. Appellee does not challenge Tennessee's power to restrict the vote to bona fide Tennessee residents. Nor has Tennessee ever disputed that appellee was a bona fide resident of the State and county when he attempted to register.4 But Tennessee insists that, in addition to being a resident, a would-be voter must have been a resident for a year in the State and three months in the county. It is this additional durational residence requirement that appellee challenges.

Durational residence laws penalize those persons who have traveled from one place to another to establish a new residence during the qualifying period. Such laws divide residents into two classes, old residents and new residents, and discriminate against the latter to the extent of totally denying them the opportunity to vote.5 the constitutional question presented is whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment permits a State to discriminate in this way among its citizens.

To decide whether a law violates the Equal Protection Clause, we look, in essence, to three things: the character of the classification in question; the individual interests affected by the classification; and the governmental interests asserted in support of the classification. Cf. Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23, 30, 89 S.Ct. 5, 10, 21 L.Ed.2d 24 (1968). In considering laws challenged under the Equal Protection Clause, this Court has evolved more than one test, depending upon the interest affected or the classification involved. 6 First, then, we must determine what standard of review is appropriate. In the present case, whether we look to the benefit withheld by the classification (the opportunity to vote) or the basis for the classification (recent interstate travel) we conclude that the State must show a substantial and compelling reason for imposing durational residence requirements.


Durational residence requirements completely bar from voting all residents not meeting the fixed durational standards. By denying some citizens the right to vote, such laws deprive them of "a fundamental political right, . . . preservative of all rights." Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 562, 84 S.Ct. 1362, 1381, 12 L.Ed. 506 (1964). There is no need to repeat now the labors undertaken in earlier cases to analyze this right to vote and to explain in detail the judicial role in reviewing state statutes that selectively distribute the franchise. In decision after decision, this Court has made clear that a citizen has a constitutionally protected right to participate in elections on an equal basis with other citizens in the jurisdiction. See, e.g., Evans v. Cornman, 398 U.S. 419, 421—422, 426, 90 S.Ct. 1752, 1754—1755, 1756, 26 L.Ed.2d 370 (1970); Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15, 395 U.S. 621, 626—628, 89 S.Ct. 1886, 1889—1890, 23 L.Ed.2d 583 (1969); Cipriano v. City of Houma, 395 U.S. 701, 706, 89 S.Ct. 1897, 1900, 23 L.Ed.2d 647 (1969); Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 667, 86 S.Ct. 1079, 1081, 16 L.Ed.2d 169 (1966); Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, 93—94, 85 S.Ct. 775, 778, 779, 13 L.Ed.2d 675 (1965); Reynolds v. Sims, supra. This 'equal right to vote,' Evans v. Cornman, supra, 398 U.S., at 426, 90 S.Ct., at 1756 is not absolute; the States have the power to impose voter qualifications, and to regulate access to the franchise in other ways. See, e.g., Carrington v. Rash, supra, 380 U.S., at 91, 85 S.Ct., at 777, Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112, 144, 91 S.Ct. 260, 274, 27 L.Ed.2d 272 (opinion of Douglas, J.), 241, 91 S.Ct. 323 (separate opinion of Brennan, White, and Marshall, JJ.), 294, 91 S.Ct. 349 (opinion of Stewart, J., concurring and dissenting, with whom Burger, C.J., and Blackmun, J., joined). But, as a general matter, 'before that right (to vote) can be restricted, the purpose of the restriction and the assertedly overriding interests served by it must meet close constitutional scrutiny.' Evans v. Cornman, supra, 398 U.S., at 422, 90 S.Ct., at 1755; see Bullock v. Carter, 405 U.S. 134, at 143, 92 S.Ct. 849, at 855—856, 31 L.Ed.2d 92.

Tennessee urges that this case is controlled by Drueding v. Devlin, 380 U.S. 125, 85 S.Ct. 807, 13 L.Ed.2d 792 (1965). Drueding was a decision upholding Maryland's durational residence requirements. The District Court tested those requirements by the equal protection standard applied to ordinary state regulations: whether the exclusions are reasonably related to a permissible state interest. 234 F.Supp. 721, 724—725 (Md.1964). We summarily affirmed per curiam without the benefit of argument. But if it was not clear then, it is certainly clear now that a more exacting test is required for any statute that 'place(s) a condition on the exercise of the right to vote.' Bullock v. Carter, supra, 405 U.S., at 143, 92 S.Ct., at 856. This development in the law culminated in Kramer v. Union Free School District No. 15. supra. There we canvassed in detail the reasons for strict review of statutes distributing the franchise, 395 U.S., at 626—630, 89 S.Ct., at 1889—1891, noting inter alia that such statutes 'constitute the foundation of our representative society.' We concluded that if a challenged statute grants the right to vote to some citizens and denies the franchise to others, 'the Court must determine whether the exclusions are necessary to promote a compelling state interest.' Id., at 627, 89 S.Ct., at 1890 (emphasis added); Cipriano v. City of Houma, supra, 395 U.S., at 704, 89 S.Ct., at 1899; City of Phoenix v. Kolodziejski, 399 U.S. 204, 205, 209, 90 S.Ct. 1990, 1992, 1994, 26 L.Ed.2d 523 (1970). Cf. Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, supra, 383 U.S., at 670, 86 S.Ct., at 1083. This is the test we apply here.7


This exacting test is appropriate for another reason, never considered in Drueding: Tennessee's durational residence laws classify bona fide residents on the basis of recent travel, penalizing those persons, and only those persons, who have gone from one jurisdiction to another during...

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