Jackson Giles v. Jeff Harris, No. 493

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtHolmes
Citation47 L.Ed. 909,189 U.S. 475,23 S.Ct. 639
Docket NumberNo. 493
Decision Date27 April 1903
PartiesJACKSON W. GILES, Appt. , v. E. JEFF HARRIS, William A. Gunter, Jr., and Charles B. Teasley, Board of Registrars of Montgomery County, Alabama

189 U.S. 475
23 S.Ct. 639
47 L.Ed. 909
JACKSON W. GILES, Appt.,

v.

E. JEFF HARRIS, William A. Gunter, Jr., and Charles B. Teasley, Board of Registrars of Montgomery County, Alabama.

No. 493.
Submitted February 24, 1903.
Decided April 27, 1903.

Mr. Wilford H. Smith for appellant.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 475-479 intentionally omitted]

Page 479

Mr. W. A. Gunter for appellees.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 479-482 intentionally omitted]

Page 482

Mr. Justice Holmes delivered the opinion of the court:

This is a bill in equity brought by a of the court: behalf of more than five thousand negroes, citizens of the county of Montgomery, Alabama, similarly situated and circumstanced as himself,' against the board of registrars of that county. The prayer of the bill is in substance that the defendants may be required to enroll upon the voting lists the name of the plaintiff and of all other qualified members of his race who applied for registration before August 1, 1902, and were refused, and that certain sections of the Constitution of Alabama, viz., §§ 180, 181, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, and 188 of article 8, may be declared contrary to the 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution of the United States, and void.

The allegations of the bill may be summed up as follows: The plaintiff is subject to none of the disqualifications set forth in the Constitution of Alabama and is entitled to vote,—entitled, as the bill plainly means, under the Constitution as it is. He applied in March, 1902, for registration as a voter, and was refused arbitrarily on the ground of his color, together with large numbers of other duly qualified negroes, while all white men were registered. The same thing was done all over the state. Under § 187 of article 8 of the Alabama Constitution, persons registered before January 1, 1903, remain electors for life unless they become disqualified by certain crimes, etc., while after that date severer tests come into play which would exclude, perhaps, a large part of the black race. Therefore by the refusal the plaintiff and the other negroes excluded were deprived, not only of their vote at an election which has taken place since the bill was filed, but of the permanent advantage incident to registration before 1903. The white men generally are registered for good under the easy test, and the black men are likely to be kept out in the future as in the past. This refusal to register the blacks was part of a general scheme to disfranchise them, to which the defendants and the state itself, according to the bill, were parties. The defendants accepted their office for the purpose of carrying out the scheme. The

Page 483

part taken by the state, that is, by the white population which framed the Constitution, consisted in shaping that instrument so as to give opportunity and effect to the wholesale fraud which has been practised.

The bill sets forth the material sections of the state Constitution, the general plan of which, leaving out details, is as follows: By § 178 of article 8, to entitle a person to vote he must have resided in the state at least two years, in the county one year, and in the precinct or ward three months, immediately preceding the election, have paid his poll taxes, and have been duly registered as an elector. By § 182 idiots, insane persons, and those convicted of certain crimes are disqualified. Subject to the foregoing, by § 180, before 1903 the following male citizens of the state, who are citizens of the United States, were entitled to register, viz.: First. All who had served honorably in the enumerated wars of the United States, including those on either side in the 'war between the states.' Second. All lawful descendants of persons who served honorably in the enumerated wars or in the war of the Revolution. Third. 'All persons who are of good character and who understand the duties and obligations of citizenship under a republican form of government.' As we have said, according to the allegations of the bill, this part of the Constitution, as practically administered and as intended to be administered, let in all whites and kept out a large part, if not all, of the blacks, and those who were let in retained their right to vote after 1903, when tests which might be too severe for many of the whites as well as the blacks went into effect. By § 181, after January 1, 1903, only the following persons are entitled to register: First. Those who can read and write any article of the Constitution of the United States in the English language, and who either are physically unable to work or have been regularly engaged in some lawful business for the greater part of the last twelve months, and those who are unable to read and write solely because physically disabled. Second. Owners or husbands of owners of 40 acres of land in the state, upon which they reside, and owners or husbands of owners of real or personal estate in the state assessed for taxation at $300

Page 484

or more, if the taxes have been paid, unless under contest. By § 183 only persons qualified as electors can take part in any method of party action. By § 184 persons not registered are disqualified from voting. By § 185 an elector whose vote is challenged shall be required to swear that the matter of the challenge is untrue before his vote shall be received. By § 186 the legislature is to provide for registration after January 1, 1903, the qualification and oath of the registrars are prescribed, the duties of registrars before that date are laid down, and an appeal is given to the county court and supreme court if registration is denied. There are further executive details in § 187, together with the above-mentioned continuance of the effect of registration before January 1, 1903. By § 188, after the last mentioned date, applicants for registration may be examined under oath as to where they have lived for the last five years, the names by which they have been known, and the names of their employers. This, in brief, is the system which the plaintiff asks to have declared void.

Perhaps it should be added to the foregoing statement that the bill was filed in September, 1902, and alleged the plaintiff's desire to vote at an election coming off in November. This election has gone by, so that it is impossible to give specific relief with regard to that. But we are not prepared to dismiss the bill or the appeal on that ground, because to be enabled to cast a vote in that election is not, as in Mills v. Green 159 U. S. 651, 657, 40 L. ed. 293, 295, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 132, the whole object of the bill. It is not even the principal object of the relief sought by the plaintiff. The principal object of that is to obtain the permanent advantages of registration as of a date before 1903.

The certificate of the circuit judge raises the single question of the jurisdiction of the court. The plaintiff contends that this jurisdiction is given expressly by Rev. Stat. § 629, cl. 16 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 506), coupled with Rev. Stat. § 1979 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 1262), which provides that every person who, under color of a state 'statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage,' 'subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges,

Page 485

or immunities 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.'

We assume, as was assumed in Holt v. Indiana Mfg. Co. 176 U. S. 68, 72, 44 L. ed. 374, 376, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 272, that § 1979 has not been repealed, and that jurisdiction to enforce its provisions has not been taken away by any later act. But it is suggested that the circuit court was right in its ruling that it had no jurisdiction as a court of the United States, because the bill did not aver threatened damage to an amount exceeding $2,000. It is true that by the act of August 13, 1888, chap. 866, § 1 (25 Stat. at L. 433, 434),1 the circuit courts are gives cognizance of suits of a civil nature, at common law or in equity, arising under the Constitution or laws of the United States, in which the matter in dispute exceeds the sum or value of $2,000. We have recognized, too, that the deprivation of a man's political and social rights properly may be alleged to involve damage to that amount, capable of estimation in money. Wiley v. Sinkler, 179 U. S. 58, 45 L. ed. 84, 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 17; Swafford v. Templeton, 185 U. S. 487, 46 L. ed. 1005, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 783. But, assuming that the allegation should have been made in a case like this, the objection to its omission was not raised in the circuit court, and, as it could have been remedied by amendment, we think it unavailing. The certificate was made alio intuitu. There is no pecuniary limit on appeals to this court under § 5 of the act of 1891, chap. 517; 26 Stat. at L. 826, 828 (U. S. Comp. Stat. 1901, p. 549); The Paquete Habana, 175 U. S. 677, 683, 44 L. ed. 320, 322, 20 Sup. Ct. Rep. 290; and we do not feel called upon to send the case back to the circuit court in order that it might permit the amendment. In Mills v. Green, 159 U. S. 651, 40 L. ed. 293, 16 Sup. Ct. Rep. 132, 30 L. R. A. 90, 16 C. C. A. 516, 25 U. S. App. 383, 69 Fed. 852, no notice was taken of the absence of an allegation of value in a case like this.

We assume further, for the purposes of decision, that § 1979 extends to a deprivation of rights under color of a state constitution, although it might be argued with some force that the enumeration of 'statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage' purposely is confined to inferior sources of law. On these assumptions we are not prepared to say that an action at law could not be maintained on the facts alleged in the bill. Therefore, we are not prepared to say that the decree should be affirmed...

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111 practice notes
  • Sheridan v. Garrison, Civ. A. No. 67-1147.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
    • August 28, 1967
    ...withheld relief in equity even when recognizing that comparable facts would create a cause of action for damages. Compare Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909, with Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed 1281."dealt with the...
  • Romero v. Weakley, No. 1712-SD
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 5, 1955
    ...dead-end streets, highways, railroads, factories, and the like, and other things involving safety factors.2 While Giles v. Harris, 1903, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909 (the principles of which are affirmed but distinguished in Lane v. Wilson, 1939, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L......
  • Byrd v. Sexton, No. 16056.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • March 28, 1960
    ...U.S. 649, 64 S.Ct. 757, 88 L.Ed. 987, overruling Grovey v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45, 55 S.Ct. 622, 79 L.Ed. 1292; and see Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, 485, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 19 Bowman v. Chicago & Northwestern Railway Co., 115 U.S. 611, 6 S.Ct. 192, 29 L.Ed. 502 (refusal of defendant to......
  • Carey v. Piphus, No. 76-1149
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 21, 1978
    ...286 U.S. 73, 52 S.Ct. 24, 76 L.Ed. 516 (1932); Myers v. Anderson, 238 U.S. 368, 35 S.Ct. 932, 59 L.Ed. 1349 (1915); Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909 (1903); Swafford v. Templeton, 185 U.S. 487, 22 S.Ct. 783, 46 L.Ed. 1005 (1902); Wiley v. Sinkler, 179 U.S. 58, 21 S.......
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107 cases
  • Sheridan v. Garrison, Civ. A. No. 67-1147.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
    • August 28, 1967
    ...withheld relief in equity even when recognizing that comparable facts would create a cause of action for damages. Compare Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909, with Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed 1281."...
  • Romero v. Weakley, No. 1712-SD
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Southern District of California)
    • May 5, 1955
    ...dead-end streets, highways, railroads, factories, and the like, and other things involving safety factors.2 While Giles v. Harris, 1903, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909 (the principles of which are affirmed but distinguished in Lane v. Wilson, 1939, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L......
  • Byrd v. Sexton, No. 16056.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • March 28, 1960
    ...U.S. 649, 64 S.Ct. 757, 88 L.Ed. 987, overruling Grovey v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45, 55 S.Ct. 622, 79 L.Ed. 1292; and see Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, 485, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 19 Bowman v. Chicago & Northwestern Railway Co., 115 U.S. 611, 6 S.Ct. 192, 29 L.Ed. 502 (refusal of defendan......
  • Carey v. Piphus, No. 76-1149
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 21, 1978
    ...286 U.S. 73, 52 S.Ct. 24, 76 L.Ed. 516 (1932); Myers v. Anderson, 238 U.S. 368, 35 S.Ct. 932, 59 L.Ed. 1349 (1915); Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, 23 S.Ct. 639, 47 L.Ed. 909 (1903); Swafford v. Templeton, 185 U.S. 487, 22 S.Ct. 783, 46 L.Ed. 1005 (1902); Wiley v. Sinkler, 179 U.S. 58, 21 S.......
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6 books & journal articles
  • The United States Supreme Court and the Segregation Issue
    • United States
    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Nbr. 304-1, March 1956
    • March 1, 1956
    ...162 U. S. 592 (1896) and Murray v.Louisiana, 163 U. S. 101 (1896).7 Williams v. Mississippi, 170 U. S. 213(1898).8 Giles v. Harris, 189 U. S. 475 (1903);Giles v. Teasley, 193 U. S. 146 (1904).9 Berea College v. Kentucky, 211 U. S. 45(1908).10 Chiles v. C. & O. Ry Co., 218 U. S. 71(1910).11 ......
  • THE SWEEP OF THE ELECTORAL POWER.
    • United States
    • Constitutional Commentary Vol. 36 Nbr. 1, March 2021
    • March 22, 2021
    ...See, e.g., United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875); United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214 (1875). (160.) See, e.g., Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475 (161.) See, e.g., Colegrove v. Green, 328 U.S. 549 (1946). (162.) See Stephanopoulos, supra note 26, at 160. (163.) See, e.g., Citizens Uni......
  • "HEY STEPHEN".
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 120 Nbr. 6, April 2022
    • April 1, 2022
    ...which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color."). (77.) 189 U.S. 475 (78.) Giles, 189 U.S. at 487-88. (79.) 92 U.S. 542 (1876). (80.) 325 U.S. 91 (1945). (81.) 274 U.S. 200, 207 (1927). (82.) 417 U.S. 484, 496-9......
  • EMPIRE IN EQUITY.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 5, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...a new EIC charter in 1753 that sharply limited Indians' access to English courts in India."). (213) Travers, supra note 28, at 132. (214) 189 U.S. 475, 486-87 (1903) (citing Green v. Mills, 69 F. 852 (Fuller, Circuit Justice, 4th Cir. (215) Id. (216) tone Wolf v. Hitchcock, 187 U.S. 553 (19......
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