Smith v. Paris

Decision Date22 August 1966
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 2393-N.
PartiesMary C. SMITH et al., Plaintiffs, v. T. W. PARIS et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama

Fred D. Gray, of Gray & Seay, Montgomery, Ala., and Jack Greenberg, New York City, and Henry M. Aronson, Jackson, Miss., for plaintiffs.

Preston C. Clayton, Eufaula, Ala., for defendants.


JOHNSON, District Judge.

Plaintiffs, who are Negroes, were candidates for the Barbour County Democratic Executive Committee and were qualified electors within Barbour County. They sue individually and, pursuant to Rule 23(a), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on behalf of all Negro citizens eligible to vote in Barbour County, Alabama.

Plaintiffs allege that the defendant members of the Barbour County Democratic Executive Committee, in their official capacities, have deprived plaintiffs, and the members of the class they represent, of their constitutional rights under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and the congressional enactments designed to effectuate those amendments. Specifically, plaintiffs aver that these defendants, by changing the method of electing members to the Executive Committee from a beat basis to an at-large basis, have invidiously discriminated against Negroes in the exercise of their franchise by making it impossible for any of the Negro candidates to be elected in the May 3, 1966, election.

Jurisdiction is conferred on this Court by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1344, and by 42 U.S.C. §§ 1971 and 1981.

In addition to asking that the action of the Executive Committee be declared unconstitutional, plaintiffs also ask this Court to reinstate the rule providing for electing members to the county committee on a beat-by-beat basis, set the election of May 3 aside and require a new election, and enjoin defendants from any further use of the new method of electing its members.

A temporary restraining order to halt the election was sought only several hours before the May 3 election. This was denied on the basis that it was not timely filed because the election had already commenced and the plaintiffs had had ample time in which to present said motion to the Court. See Hamer et al. v. Campbell et al., 358 F.2d 215 (5th Cir. 1966); McGill et al. v. Ryals et al., 253 F.Supp. 374 (M.D.Ala.1966).

At the hearing of this case on June 30, 1966, the parties stipulated the facts and submitted their arguments in briefs, which were filed herein on July 29, 1966. The basic facts as stipulated are as follows:

For over thirty years, until March 17, 1966, elections of the Barbour County Democratic Executive Committee were held on a combined at-large and beat basis. Five of the twenty-one members of the committee were elected at large. The county was divided into 16 beats and the voters in each beat elected a person residing in that beat to the committee. Prior to March 1966, no Negro had ever qualified to run as a member of the committee. Moreover, prior to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a minuscule number of eligible Negroes were actually registered to vote. This has all changed since the passage of the Act, with the result that in four of the beats in Barbour County, there is a majority of Negroes over white qualified electors. However, over the entire county, there is still a majority of white voters.

By March 1, 1966, the six plaintiffs had qualified as candidates for the Executive Committee. Four of the six were candidates in beats where the majority of registered voters were Negroes.

On March 17, 1966, the Barbour County Executive Committee by resolution1 changed the method of electing committee members so that the 16 members previously elected by beats (or districts) were elected on an at-large basis, although each candidate is required to reside within a particular beat and, after election, represent the beat in which he resides.

The tabulation of the election returns reflects that if the election had been held under the system that had previously been in force before the resolution of March 17, 1966, three of the plaintiffs would very likely have been elected. Under the county-wide vote system established by this resolution, all plaintiffs were defeated by substantial majorities.

Having reviewed the facts as stipulated and outlined above, and the arguments of the parties in their briefs, this Court concludes that the March 17, 1966, resolution, adopted by the Democratic Executive Committee of Barbour County, Alabama, was born of an effort to frustrate and discriminate against Negroes in the exercise of their right to vote, in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. However, this Court further concludes, for the reasons set out below, that the plaintiffs' request for reinstatement of the prior rule providing for election from beats and the request that a new election be ordered should each be denied.


Any statute or resolution must be viewed in the context or setting which gave rise to its enactment. Certainly a major element in the circumstances surrounding promulgation of the resolution presently under consideration, which this Court must take into account, is "the long history of racial discrimination in Alabama." Sims v. Baggett, 247 F.Supp. 96 (M.D.Ala.1965). See also the discussion and citations in United States v. State of Alabama, 252 F.Supp. 95 (M.D. Ala.1965). Any determination of legislative motive or purpose, therefore, must be viewed in this light.

Focusing more specifically on the present case, we have a situation where Negroes have long been denied the right to vote and historically have not been represented by members of their race on the Barbour County Democratic Executive Committee. As stated earlier, prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, only a small percentage of Negroes in Barbour County were registered to vote. With the passage of the Act, Negroes have registered in large numbers, and by May 3, 1966, had the voting strength to elect at least four candidates to the Executive Committee. Accompanying this increase in voter strength, there were, for the first time, Negro candidates who had qualified to run for the Executive Committee. For over thirty years the method of electing officials to this committee had remained the same until just a few weeks after all six Negro candidates had qualified. Then suddenly, the Executive Committee, with little or no debate, without taking any minutes or making any record of its meetings or discussions, and, so far as the record reflects, with little or no discussion among the members of the community, promulgated a resolution, the clear effect of which is to turn Negro majorities into minorities in certain political areas, thus, as a practical matter, eliminating the possibility of a Negro candidate winning a place on the Executive Committee. Certainly when viewed against the general background outlined above, and where the manifest consequences and clear effect of the resolution greatly diminish the effectiveness of the Negroes' right to vote, an inference of a discriminatory purpose is compelling. This is the clear teaching of Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339, 81 S.Ct. 125, 5 L.Ed.2d 110 (1960); Cassell v. State of Texas, 339 U.S. 282, 70 S.Ct. 629, 94 L.Ed. 839 (1950); United States v. State of Alabama, 304 F.2d 583 (5th Cir. 1962); Sims v. Baggett, 247 F.Supp. 96 (M.D.Ala.1965); and Sellers v. Trussell, 253 F.Supp. 915 (M.D.Ala.1966) (concurring opinion). A passage from Sims v. Baggett amply makes this point clear:

With the pattern and practice of discrimination in Alabama as a backdrop, the cavalier treatment accorded predominantly Negro counties in the House plan takes on added meaning. The court is permitted to find the intent of the Legislature from the consistency of inherent probabilities inferred from the record as a whole. We, therefore, hold that the Legislature intentionally aggregated predominantly Negro counties with predominantly white counties for the sole purpose of preventing the election of Negroes to House membership. The plan adopted by the Legislature can have no other effect. 247 F.Supp. at 109.

The defendants argue at length that the reason for the change in the method of electing members to the Executive Committee was to comply with the "one-man, one-vote" principle of the reapportionment decisions.2 This Court concludes, however, that this justification is nothing more than a sham. First, no adequate reason has been advanced as to why it took the Executive Committee over two years to apply the reapportionment principles to the local level of government. More particularly, there were neither minutes of any meetings held to discuss the measure, nor any record of...

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