Richardson v. Ramirez 8212 1589

Decision Date24 June 1974
Docket NumberNo. 72,72
Citation418 U.S. 24,94 S.Ct. 2655,41 L.Ed.2d 551
PartiesViola N. RICHARDSON, as County Clerk, etc., Petitioner, v. Abran RAMIREZ et al. —1589
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

After the three individual respondents, who had been convicted of felonies and had completed their sentences and paroles, were refused registration to vote in three different California counties respectively because of their felony convictions, they brought a class petition, on behalf of themselves and all other ex-felons similarly situated, for a writ of mandate in the California Supreme Court, naming as defendants the Secretary of State and the three county election officials who had denied them registration 'individually and as representatives of the class of all other' county election officials in the State, and challenging the constitutionality of respondents' disenfranchisement on the ground, inter alia, that provisions of the California Constitution and the implementing statutes that disenfranchised ex-felons denied them equal protection. The three county officials named as defendants decided not to contest the action and told the court they would henceforth register to vote ex-felons, including respondents, whose sentences and paroles had expired. Prior to the return date of the writ, the court added to the named defendants (instead of allowing her to intervene) another county election official (petitioner here) who was the defendant in a similar action by an ex-felon pending in the State Court of Appeal. After holding that the three first-named county officials' acquiescence did not render the case moot, the California Supreme Court went on to hold that the constitutional and statutory provisions in question, as applied to ex-felons whose sentences and paroles had expired, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but did not issue the peremptory writ. Held:

1. In view of its unusual procedural history in the Supreme Court of California, the case is not moot. Pp. 34—40.

(a) The State Supreme Court's action in adding petitioner as a named defendant after the other named county officials decided not to contest the action, and at a time when the Secretary of State (who did not join in the petition to this Court) was still a party defendant who had answered the complaint, indicates that the court considered the suit to be not only on behalf of the three named plaintiffs, but also on behalf of all ex-felons in California similarly situated, and also that the court regarded petitioner's opponent in the Court of Appeal suit, both as an unnamed member of the class of ex-felons referred to in the complaint and as one of a class actually seeking to register in petitioner's county, as a party to the Supreme Court action. Pp. 38—40.

(b) Being rendered in a class action in which relief in the nature of declaratory relief was granted, the decision below is not only binding on petitioner and thus dispositive of her other suit, but also decides the federal constitutional question presented for the unnamed members of the classes represented below by petitioner and respondents, whose continuing controversy in the State Supreme Court still continues in this Court. Brockington v. Rhodes, 396 U.S. 41, 90 S.Ct. 206, 24 L.Ed.2d 209, distinguished. P. 40.

2. California, in disenfranchising convicted felons who have completed their sentences and paroles, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause, Pp. 41—56.

(a) The understanding of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, as reflected in the express language of § 2 of the Amendment, which exempts from the sanction of reduced congressional representation resulting from the denial of citizens' right to vote, the denial of such right for 'participation in rebellion, or other crime,' and in the historical and judicial interpretation of the Amendment's applicability to state laws disenfranchising felons, is of controlling significance in distinguishing such laws from those other state limitations on the franchise that this Court has held invalid under the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 54—55.

(b) Section 1 of the Fourteenth the Amendment "largely through the ac-Protection Clause, in dealing with voting rights as it does, could not have been meant to bar outright a form of disenfranchisement that was expressly exempted from the less drastic sanction of reduced representation that § 2 imposed for other forms of disenfranchisement. P. 55.

(c) Even if § 2 was made part of the Amendment "largely through the accident of political exigency rather than for the relation which it bore to the other sections of Amendment," as respondents contend, this does not preclude looking to it for guidance in interpreting § 1, since § 2 is as much a part of the Amend- ment as any of the other sections, and how it became part of the Amendment is less important than what it says and what it means. P. 55.

9 Cal.3d 199, 107 Cal.Rptr. 137, 507 P.2d 1345, reversed and remanded.

Duncan M. James, Dist. Atty. of Mendocino County, Ukiah, Cal., for petitioner.

George J. Roth, Los Angeles, Cal., for State of California, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Martin R. Glick, San Francisco, Cal., for respondents.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The three individual respondents in this case were convicted of felonies and have completed the service of their respective sentences and paroles. They filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the Supreme Court of California to compel California county election officials to register them as voters.1 They claimed, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, that application to them of the provisions of the California Constitution and implementing statutes which disenfranchised persons convicted of an 'infamous crime' denied them the right to equal protection of the laws under the Federal Constitution. The Supreme Court of California held that 'as applied to all ex-felons whose terms of incarceration and parole have expired, the provisions of article II and article XX, section 11, of the California Constitution denying the right of suffrage to persons convicted of crime, together with the several sections of the Elections Code implementing that disqualification . . . violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.' Ramirez v. Brown, 9 Cal.3d 199, 216—217, 107 Cal.Rptr. 137, 149, 507 P.2d 1345, 1357 (1973). We granted certiorari, 414 U.S. 816, 94 S.Ct. 45, 38 L.Ed.2d 49 (1973).

Article XX, § 11, of the California Constitution has provided since its adoption in 1879 that '(l)aws shall be made' to exclude from voting persons convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, malfeasance in office, 'or other high crimes.' At the time respondents were refused registration, former Art, II, § 1, of the California Constitution provided in part that 'no alien ineligible to citizenship, no idiot, no insane person, no person convicted of any infamous crime, no person hereafter convicted of the embezzlement or misappropriation of public money, and no person who shall not be able to read the Constitution in the English language and write his or her name, shall ever exercise the privileges of an elector in this State.'2 Sections 310 and 321 of the California Elections Code provide that an affidavit of registration shall show whether the affiant has been convicted of 'a felony which disqualifies (him) from voting.'3 Sections 383, 389, and 390 direct the county clerk to cancel the registration of all voters who have been convicted of 'any infamous crime or of the embezzlement or misappropriation of any public money.'4 Sections 14240 and 14246 permit a voter's qualifications to be challenged on the ground that he has been convicted of 'a felony' or of 'the embezzlement or misappropriation of public money.'5 California provides by statute for restoration of the right to vote to persons convicted of crime either by court order after the completion of probation,6 or, if a prison term was served, by executive pardon after completion of rehabilitation proceedings.7 California also provides a procedure by which a person refused registration may obtain judicial review of his disqualification.8

Each of the individual respondents was convicted of one or more felonies, and served some time in jail or prison followed by a successfully terminated parole. Respondent Ramirez was convicted in Texas; respondents Lee and Gill were convicted in California. When Ramirez applied to register to vote in San Luis Obispo County, the County Clerk refused to allow him to register. The Monterey County Clerk refused registration to respondent Lee, and the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters (hereafter also included in references to clerks) refused registration to respondent Gill.

All three respondents were refused registration because of their felony convictions.9

In May 1972 respondents filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the Supreme Court of California, invoking its original jurisdiction.10 They named as defendants11 below the three election officials of San Luis Obispo Monterey, and Stanislaus Counties who had refused to allow them to register, 'individually and as representatives of the class of all other County Clerks and Registrars of Voters who have the duty of determining for their respective counties whether any ex-felon will be denied the right to vote.' The petition for a writ of mandate challenged the constitutionality of respondents' exclusion from the voting rolls on two grounds. First, it was contended that California's denial of the franchise to the class of ex-felons could no longer withstand scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Relying on the Court's recent voting-rights cases, respondents argued that a compelling state interest must be found to justify exclusion of a class from the franchise, and that California could assert no such interest with respect to ex-felons. Second, ...

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