Louisiana v. United States, No. 67

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACK
Citation380 U.S. 145,13 L.Ed.2d 709,85 S.Ct. 817
PartiesLOUISIANA et al., Appellants, v. UNITED STATES
Decision Date08 March 1965
Docket NumberNo. 67

380 U.S. 145
85 S.Ct. 817
13 L.Ed.2d 709
LOUISIANA et al., Appellants,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 67.
Argued Jan. 26 and 27, 1965.
Decided March 8, 1965.

[Syllabus from pages 145-146 intentionally omitted]

Page 146

Harry J. Kron, Jr., Baton Rouge La., for appellants.

Louis F. Claiborne, Washington, D.C., for appellee.

Page 147

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Pursuant to authority granted in 42 U.S.C. § 1971(c) (1958 ed., Supp. V), the Attorney General brought this action on behalf of the United States in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana against the State of Louisiana, the three members of the State Board of Registration, and the Director-Secretary of the Board. The complaint charged that the defendants by following and enforcing unconstitutional state laws had been denying and unless restrained by the court would continue to deny Negro citizens of Louisiana the right to vote, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1971(a) (1958 ed.) 1 and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The case was tried and after submission of evidence,2 the three-judge District Court, convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281 (1958 ed.), gave judgment for the United States. 225 F.Supp. 353. The State and the other defendants appealed, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 377 U.S. 987, 84 S.Ct. 1916, 12 L.Ed.2d 1042.

The complaint alleged, and the District Court found, that beginning with the adoption of the Louisiana Constitution of 1898, when approximately 44% of all the registered voters in the State were Negroes, the State had put into effect a successful policy of denying Negro citizens the right to vote because of their race. The 1898

Page 148

constitution adopted what was known as a 'grandfather clause,' which imposed burdensome requirements for registration thereafter but exempted from these future requirements any person who had been entitled to vote before January 1, 1867, or who was the son or grandson of such a person. 3 Such a transparent expedient for disfranchising Negroes, whose ancestors had been slaves until 1863 and not entitled to vote in Louisiana before 1867, 4 was held unconstitutional in 1915 as a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment, in a case involving a similar Oklahoma constitutional provision. Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347, 35 S.Ct. 926, 59 L.Ed. 1340. Soon after that decision Louisiana, in 1921, adopted a new constitution replacing the repudiated 'grandfather clause' with what the complaint calls an 'interpretation test,' which required that an applicant for registration be able to 'give a reasonable interpretation' of any clause in the Louisiana Constitution or the Constitution of the United States.5 From the adoption of the 1921 interpretation test until 1944, the District Court's opinion stated, the percentage of registered voters in Louisiana who were Negroes never exceeded one percent. Prior to 1944 Negro interest in voting in Louisiana had been slight, largely because the State's white primary law kept Negroes from voting in the Democratic Party primary election, the only election that mattered in the political climate of that State. In 1944, however, this Court invalidated the substantially identical white primary law of Texas,6 and with the explicit statutory bar to their voting in the primary removed and because of a generally heightened political interest, Negroes in increasing

Page 149

numbers began to register in Louisiana. The white primary system had been so effective in barring Negroes from voting that the 'interpretation test' as a disfranching devise had been ignored over the years. Many registrars continued to ignore it after 1944, and in the next dozen years the proportion of registered votes who were Negroes rose from two-tenths of one percent to approximately 15% by March 1956. This fact, coupled with this Court's 1954 invalidation of laws requiring school segregation,7 prompted the State to try new devices to keep the white citizens in control. The Louisiana Legislature created a committee which became known as the 'Segregation Committee' to seek means of accomplishing this goal. The chairman of this committee also helped to organize a semiprivate group called the Association of Citizens Councils, which thereafter acted in close cooperation with the legislative committee to preserve white supremacy. The legislative committee and the Citizens Councils set up programs, which parish voting registrars were required to attend, to instruct the registrars on how to promote white political control. The committee and the Citizens Councils also began a wholesale challenging of Negro names already on the voting rolls, with the result that thousands of Negroes, but virtually no whites, were purged from the rolls of voters. Beginning in the middle 1950's registrars of at least 21 parishes began to apply the interpretation test. In 1960 the State Constitution was amended to require every applicant thereafter to 'be able to understand' as well as 'give a reasonable interpretation' of any section of the State or Federal Constitution 'when read to him by the registrar.'8 The State Board

Page 150

of Registration in cooperation with the Segregation Committee issued orders that all parish registrars must strictly comply with the new provisions.

The interpretation test, the court found, vested in the voting registrars a virtually uncontrolled discretion as to who should vote and who should not. Under the State's statutes and constitutional provisions the registrars, without any objective standard to guide them, determine the manner in which the interpretation test is to be given, whether it is to be oral or written, the length and complexity of the sections of the State or Federal Constitution to be understood and interpreted, and what interpretation is to be considered correct. There was ample evidence to support the District Court's finding that registrars in the 21 parishes where the test was found to have been used had exercised their broad powers to deprive otherwise qualified Negro citizens of their right to vote; and that the existence of the test as a hurdle to voter qualification has in itself deterred and will continue to deter Negroes from attempting to register in Louisiana.

Because of the virtually unlimited discretion vested by the Louisiana laws in the registrars of voters, and because in the 21 parishes where the interpretation test was applied that discretion had been exercised to keep Negroes from voting because of their race, the District Court held the interpretation test invalid on its face and as applied, as a violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and of 42 U.S.C. § 1971(a).9 The District Court enjoined future use of the test in the State, and with respect to the 21 parishes where the invalid interpretation test was found to have

Page 151

been applied, the District Court also enjoined use of a newly enacted 'citizenship' test, which did not repeal the interpretation test and the validity of which was not challenged in this suit, unless a reregistration of all voters in those parishes is ordered,...

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330 practice notes
  • Jenkins v. State of Mo., No. 77-0420-CV-W-4.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • September 17, 1984
    ...the continuing effects of past discrimination as well as bar discrimination against blacks in the future. Louisiana v. United States, 380 U.S. 145, 85 S.Ct. 817, 13 L.Ed.2d 709 The issues of liability and remedy have previously been bifurcated by this Court. Therefore at this time the Court......
  • U.S. Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Bob Evans Farms, LLC, Civil Action No. 2:15–cv–1237
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • August 17, 2017
    ...Paper Co. v. Moody , 422 U.S. 405, 418, 95 S.Ct. 2362, 45 L.Ed.2d 280 (1975) (quoting 275 F.Supp.3d 670 Louisiana v. United States , 380 U.S. 145, 154, 85 S.Ct. 817, 13 L.Ed.2d 709 (1965) ). Although district courts are afforded substantial discretion in fashioning injunctive relief, it sho......
  • Smith v. Board of Education of Morrilton Sch. Dist. No. 32, No. 18243.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • September 14, 1966
    ...non-discriminatory on its face and is based upon otherwise rational considerations) becomes impermissible. Cf. Louisiana v. United States, 380 U.S. 145, 154-55, 85 S.Ct. 817, 13 L.Ed.2d 709 (1965) (voting registration requirement "frozen" in order to obviate effect of prior discriminatory a......
  • People v. Bell, No. S004260
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • September 5, 1989
    ...v. Forssenius (1965) 380 U.S. 528, 543 [, 85 S.Ct. 1177, 1186, 14 L.Ed.2d 50] ), the literacy test (Louisiana v. United States (1965) 380 U.S. 145, 150 [, 85 S.Ct. 817, 820, 13 L.Ed.2d 709] ), and gerrymandering (Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960) 364 U.S. 339 [, 81 S.Ct. 125, 5 L.Ed.2d 110] ) a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
329 cases
  • Jenkins v. State of Mo., No. 77-0420-CV-W-4.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. Western District of Missouri
    • September 17, 1984
    ...the continuing effects of past discrimination as well as bar discrimination against blacks in the future. Louisiana v. United States, 380 U.S. 145, 85 S.Ct. 817, 13 L.Ed.2d 709 The issues of liability and remedy have previously been bifurcated by this Court. Therefore at this time the Court......
  • U.S. Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n v. Bob Evans Farms, LLC, Civil Action No. 2:15–cv–1237
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • August 17, 2017
    ...Paper Co. v. Moody , 422 U.S. 405, 418, 95 S.Ct. 2362, 45 L.Ed.2d 280 (1975) (quoting 275 F.Supp.3d 670 Louisiana v. United States , 380 U.S. 145, 154, 85 S.Ct. 817, 13 L.Ed.2d 709 (1965) ). Although district courts are afforded substantial discretion in fashioning injunctive relief, it sho......
  • Smith v. Board of Education of Morrilton Sch. Dist. No. 32, No. 18243.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • September 14, 1966
    ...non-discriminatory on its face and is based upon otherwise rational considerations) becomes impermissible. Cf. Louisiana v. United States, 380 U.S. 145, 154-55, 85 S.Ct. 817, 13 L.Ed.2d 709 (1965) (voting registration requirement "frozen" in order to obviate effect of prior discriminatory a......
  • People v. Bell, No. S004260
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • September 5, 1989
    ...v. Forssenius (1965) 380 U.S. 528, 543 [, 85 S.Ct. 1177, 1186, 14 L.Ed.2d 50] ), the literacy test (Louisiana v. United States (1965) 380 U.S. 145, 150 [, 85 S.Ct. 817, 820, 13 L.Ed.2d 709] ), and gerrymandering (Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960) 364 U.S. 339 [, 81 S.Ct. 125, 5 L.Ed.2d 110] ) a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Supreme Court of the United States, 1964-1965
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 18-4, December 1965
    • December 1, 1965
    ...what might be regarded as a sort of modern &dquo;grandfather clause&dquo; case theCourt in Louisiana v. United States (380 U.S. 145; 85 S.Ct. 817) had a challenge 751that state’s &dquo;interpretation test.&dquo; This required a person applying to register to voteto interpret a section of th......

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