Smith v. Allwright

Citation64 S.Ct. 757,151 A.L.R. 1110,321 U.S. 649,88 L.Ed. 987
Decision Date03 April 1944
Docket NumberNo. 51,51
PartiesSMITH v. ALLWRIGHT, Election Judge, et al. Re
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

See 322 U.S. 769, 64 S.Ct. 1052.

Messrs. Thurgood Marshall, of Baltimore, Md., and William H. Hastie, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Mr. George W. Barcus, of Austin, Tex., for Gerald C. Mann, Attorney General of Texas, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

No. appearance for respondents.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This writ of certiorari brings here for review a claim for damages in the sum of $5,000 on the part of petitioner, a Negro citizen of the 48th precinct of Harris County, Texas for the refusal of respondents, election and associate election judges respectively of that precinct, to give petitioner a ballot or to permit him to cast a ballot in the primary election of July 27, 1940, for the nomination of Democratic candidates for the United States Senate and House of Representatives, and Governor and other state officers. The refusal is alleged to have been solely because of the race and color of the proposed voter.

The actions of respondents are said to violate Sections 31 and 43 of Title 81 of the United States Code, 8 U.S.C.A. §§ 31 and 43, in that petitoner was deprived of rights secured by Sections 2 and 4 of Article I2 and the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Seventeenth Amend- ments to the United States Constitution.3 The suit was filed in the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Texas, which had jurisdiction under Judicial Code Section 24, subsection 14, 28 U.S.C.A. § 41 (14).4

The District Court denied the relief sought and the Circuit Court of Appeals quite properly affirmed its action on the authority of Grovey v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45, 55 S.Ct. 622, 79 L.Ed. 1292, 97 A.L.R. 680.5 We granted the petition for certiorari to resolve a claimed inconsistency between the decision in the Grovey case and that of United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 85 L.Ed. 1368. 319 U.S. 738, 63 S.Ct. 1325, 87 L.Ed. 1697.

The State of Texas by its Constitution and statutes provides that every person, if certain other requirements are met which are not here in issue, qualified by residence in the district or county 'shall be deemed a qualified elector.' Constitution of Texas, Article VI, Section 2 Vernon's Ann.St.; Vernon's Civil Statutes (1939 ed.), Article 2955. Primary elections for United States Senators, Congressmen and state officers are provided for by Chapters Twelve and Thirteen of the statutes. Under these chapters, the Democratic Party was required to hold the primary which was the occasion of the alleged wrong to petitioner. A summary of the state statutes regulating primaries appears in the footnote.6 These nominations are to be made by the qualified voters of the party. Art. 3101.

The Democratic Party of Texas is held by the Supreme Court of that state to be a 'voluntary association,' Bell v. Hill, 123 Tex. 531, 534, 74 S.W.2d 113, protected by Section 27 of the Bill of Rights, Art. 1, Constitution of Texas, from interference by the state except that:

'In the interest of fair methods and a fair expression by their members of their preferences in the selection of their nominees, the State may regulate such elections by proper laws.' Page 545 of 123 Tex., page 120 of 74 S.W.2d. That court stated further:

'Since the right to organize and maintain a political party is one guaranteed by the Bill of Rights of this state, it necessarily follows that every privilege essential or reasonably appropriate to the exercise of that right is likewise guaranteed, including, of course, the privilege of determining the policies of the party and its membership. Without the privilege of determining the policy of a political association and its membership, the right to organize such an association would be a mere mockery. We think these rights, that is, the right to determine the membership of a political party and to determine its policies, of necessity are to be exercised by the State Convention of such party, and cannot, under any circumstances, be conferred upon a state or governmental agency.' Page 546 of 123 Tex., page 120 of 74 S.W.2d Cf. Waples v. Marrast, 108 Tex. 5, 184 S.W. 180, L.R.A.1917A, 253.

The Democratic party on May 24, 1932, in a State Convention adopted the following resolution, which has not since been 'amended, abrogated, annulled or avoided':

'Be it resolved that all white citizens of the State of Texas who are qualified to vote under the Constitution and laws of the State shall be eligible to membership in the Democratic party and, as such, entitled to participate in its deliberations.' It was by virtue of this resolution that the respondents refused to permit the petitioner to vote.

Texas is free to conduct her elections and limit her electorate as she may deem wise, save only as her action may be affected by the prohibitions of the United States Constitution or in conflict with powers delegated to and exercised by the National Government.7 The Fourteenth Amendment forbids a state from making or enforcing any law which abridges the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States and the Fifteenth Amendment specifically interdicts any denial or abridgement by a state of the right of citizens to vote on account of color. Respondents appeared in the District Court and the Circuit Court of Appeals and defended on the ground that the Democratic party of Texas is a voluntary organization with members banded together for the purpose of selecting individuals of the group representing the common political beliefs as candidates in the general election. As such a voluntary organization, it was claimed, the Democratic party is free to select its own membership and limit to whites participation in the party primary. Such action, the answer asserted, does not violate the Fourteenth, Fifteenth or Seventeenth Amendment as officers of government cannot be chosen at primaries and the Amendments are applicable only to general elections where governmental officers are actually elected. Primaries, it is said, are political party affairs, handled by party not governmental officers. No appearance for respondents is made in this Court. Arguments presented here by the Attorney General of Texas and the Chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee of Texas, as amici curiae, urged substantially the same grounds as those advanced by the respondents.

The right of a Negro to vote in the Texas primary has been considered heretofore by this Court. The first case was Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U.S. 536, 47 S.Ct. 446, 71 L.Ed. 759. At that time, 1924, the Texas statute, Art. 3093a, Acts 1923, 2d Called Sess., c. 32, afterwards numbered Art. 3107, Rev.Stat.1925, declared 'in no event shall a Negro be eligible to participate in a Democratic party primary election * * * in the State of Texas.' Nixon was refused the right to vote in a Democratic primary and brought a suit for damages against the election officers under R.S. § 1979 and 2004, the present sections 43 and 31 of Title 8, U.S.C., 8 U.S.C.A. §§ 43 and 31, respectively. It was urged to this Court that the denial of the franchise the Nixon violated his Constitutional rights under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. Without consideration of the Fifteenth, this Court held that the action of Texas in denying the ballot to Negroes by statute was in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and reversed the dismissal of the suit.

The legislature of Texas reenacted the article but gave the State Executive Committee of a party the power to prescribe the qualifications of its members for voting or other participation. This article remains in the statutes. The State Executive Committee of the Democratic party adopted a resolution that white Democrats and none other might participate in the primaries of that party. Nixon was refused again the privilege of voting in a primary and again brought suit for damages by virtue of Section 31, Title 8 U.S.C., 18 U.S.C.A. § 31. This Court again reversed the dismissal of the suit for the reason that the Committee action was deemed to be State action and invalid as discriminatory under the Fourteenth Amendment. The test was said to be whether the Committee operated as representative of the State in the discharge of the State's authority. Nixon v. Condon, 286 U.S. 73, 52 S.Ct. 484, 76 L.Ed. 984, 88 A.L.R. 458. The question of the inherent power of a political party in Texas 'without restraint by any law to determine its own membership' was lift open. Id., 286 U.S. 83, 84, 85, 52 S.Ct. 485.

In Grovey v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45, 55 S.Ct. 622, 79 L.Ed. 1292, 97 A.L.R. 680, this Court had before it another suit for damages for the refusal in a primary of a county clerk, a Texas officer with only public functions to perform, to furnish petitioner, a Negro, an absentee ballot. The refusal was solely on the ground of race. This case differed from Nixon v. Condon, supra, in that a state convention of the Democratic party had passed the resolution of May 24, 1932, hereinbefore quoted. It was decided that the determination by the state convention of the membership of the Democratic party made a significant change from a determination by the Executive Committee. The former was party action, voluntary in character. The latter, as had been held in the Condon case, was action by authority of the State. The managers of the primary election were therefore declared not to be state officials in such sense that their action was state action. A state convention of a party was said not to be an organ of the state. This Court went on to announce that to deny a vote in a primary was a mere refusal of party membership with which 'the state need have no concern,' 295 U.S. loc.cit. 55, 55 S.Ct.loc.cit. 626, while for a state to deny a vote in a...

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