Terry v. Adams

Decision Date04 May 1953
Docket NumberNo. 52,52
PartiesTERRY et al. v. ADAMS et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 345 U.S. 1003, 73 S.Ct. 1128.

Mr. J. Edwin Smith, Houston, Tex., and Mr. James M. Nabrit, Jr., Washington, D.C., for petitioners.

Messrs. Edgar E. Townes, Jr., and Clarance F. McFarlane, Houston, Tex., for respondents.

Mr. Justice BLACK announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice BURTON join.

In Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 64 S.Ct. 757, 88 L.Ed. 987, we held that rules of the Democratic Party of Texas excluding Negroes from voting in the party's primaries violated the Fifteenth Amendment. While no state law directed such exclusion, our decision pointed out that many party activities were subject to considerable statutory control. This case raises questions concerning the constitutional power of a Texas county political organization called the Jaybird Democratic Association or Jaybird Party to exclude Negroes from its primaries on racial grounds. The Jabirds deny that their racial exclusions violate the Fifteenth Amendment. They contend that the Amendment applies only to elections or primaries held under state regulation, that their association is not regulated by the state at all, and that it is not a political party but a self-governing voluntary club. The District Court held the Jaybird racial discriminations invalid and entered judgment accordingly. 90 F.Supp. 595. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that there was no constitutional or congressional bar to the admitted discriminatory exclusion of Negroes because Jaybird's primaries were not to any extent state controlled. 193 F.2d 600. We granted certiorari. 344 U.S. 883, 73 S.Ct. 180.

There was evidence that:

The Jaybird Association or Party was organized in 1889. Its membership was then and always has been limited to white people; they are automatically members if their names appear on the official list of county voters. It has been run like other political parties with an executive committee named from the county's voting precincts. Expenses of the party are paid by the assessment of candidates for office in its primaries. Candidates for county offices submit their names to the Jaybird Committee in accordance with the normal practice followed by regular political parties all over the country. Advertisements and posters proclaim that these candidates are running subject to the action of the Jaybird primary. While there is no legal compulsion on successful Jaybird candidates to enter Democratic primaries they have nearly always done so and with few exceptions since 1889 have run and won without opposition in the Democratic primaries and the general elections that followed. Thus the party has been the dominant political group in the county since organization, having endorsed every county-wide official elected since 1889.

It is apparent that Jaybird activities follow a plan purposefully designed to exclude Negroes from voting and at the same time to escape the Fifteenth Amendment's command that the right of citizens to vote shall neither be denied nor abridged on account of race. These were the admitted party purposes according to the following testimony of the Jaybird's president:

'Q. * * * Now Mr. Adams, will you tell me specifically what is the specific purpose of holding these elections and carrying on this organization like you do? A. Good government.

'Q. Now I will ask you to state whether or not it is the opinion and policy of the Association that to carry on good government they must exclude negro citizens? A. Well, when we started it was and it is still that way, I think.

'Q. And then one of the purposes of your organization is for the specific purpose of excluding negroes from voting, isn't it? A. Yes.

'Q. And that is your policy? A. Yes.

'Q. I will ask you, that is the reason you hold your election in May rather than in June or July, isn't it? A. Yes.

'Q. Because if you held it in July you would have to abide by the statutes and the law by letting them vote? A. They do vote in July.

'Q. And if you held yours at that time they would have to vote too, wouldn't they? A. Why sure.

'Q. And you hold it in May so they won't have to? A. Well, they don't vote in ours but they can vote on anybody in the July election they want to.

'Q. But you are not answering my question. My question is that you hold yours in May so you won't have to let them vote, don't you? A. Yes.

'Q. And that is your purpose? A. Yes.

'Q. And your intention? A. Yes.

'Q. And to have a vote of the white population at a time when the negroes can't vote, isn't that right? A. That's right.

'Q. That is the whole policy of your Association? A. Yes.

'Q. And that is its purpose? A. Yes.'

The District Court found that the Jaybird Association was a political organization or party; that the majority of white voters generally abide by the results of its primaries and support in the Democratic primaries the persons endorsed by the Jaybird primaries; and that the chief object of the Association has always been to deny Negroes any voice or part in the election of Fort Bend County officials.

The facts and findings bring this case squarely within the reasoning and holding of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in its two recent decisions about excluding Negroes from Democratic primaries in South Carolina. Rice v. Elmore, 4 Cir., 165 F.2d 387, and Baskin v. Brown, 4 Cir., 174 F.2d 391.1 South Carolina had repealed every trace of statutory or constitutional control of the Democratic primaries. It did this in the hope that thereafter the Democratic Party or Democratic 'Clubs' of South Carolina would be free to continue discriminatory practices against Negroes as voters. The contention there was that the Democratic 'Clubs' were mere private groups; the contention here is that the Jaybird Association is a mere private group. The Court of Appeals in invalidating the South Carolina practices answered these formalistic arguments by holding that no election machinery could be sustained if its purpose or effect was to deny Negroes on account of their race an effective voice in the governmental affairs of their country, state, or community. In doing so the Court relied on the principle announced in Smith v. Allwright, supra, 321 U.S. at page 664, 64 S.Ct. at page 765, that the constitutional right to be free from racial discrimination in voting '* * * is not to be nullified by a state through casting its electoral process in a form which permits a private organization to practice racial discrimination in the election.'

The South Carolina cases are in accord with the commands of the Fifteenth Amendment and the laws passed pursuant to it. That Amendment provides as follows:

'The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.'

The Amendment bans racial discrimination in voting by both state and nation. It thus establishes a national policy, obviously applicable to the right of Negroes not to be discriminated against as voters in elections to determine public governmental policies or to select public officials, national, state, or local. Shortly after its adoption Mr. Chief Justice Waite speaking for this Court said:

'It follows that the amendment has invested the citizens of the United States with a new constitutional right which is within the protecting power of Congress. That right is exemption from discrimination in the exercise of the elective franchise on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.' United States v. Reese, 92 U.S. 214, 218, 23 L.Ed. 563. Other cases have reemphasized the Fifteenth Amendment's specific grant of this new constitutional right.2 Not content to rest congressional power to protect this new constitutional right on the necessary and proper clause of the Constitution, the Fifteenth Amendment's framers added § 2, reading:

'The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.'

And Mr. Justice Miller speaking for this Court declared that the Amendment's granted right to be free from racial discrimination '* * * should be kept free and pure by congressional enactments whenever that is necessary.' Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 665, 4 S.Ct. 152, 159, 28 L.Ed. 274. See also United States v. Reese, supra, 92 U.S. at page 218, 23 L.Ed. 563. And see Mr. Justice Bradley's opinion on circuit in United States v. Cruikshank, Fed.Cas.No.14,897, 1 Woods 308, 314—316, 320 323. Acting pursuant to the power granted by the second section of the Fifteenth Amendment Congress in 1870 provided as follows:

'All citizens of the United States who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election by the people in any State, Territory, district, county, city, parish, township, school district, municipality, or other territorial subdivision, shall be entitled and allowed to vote at all such elections, without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; any constitution, law, custom, usage, or regulation of any State or Territory, or by or under its authority, to the contrary notwithstanding.' 8 U.S.C. § 31, 8 U.S.C.A. § 31.

The Amendment, the congressional enactment and the cases make explicit the rule against racial discrimination in the conduct of elections. Together they show the meaning of 'elections.' Clearly the Amendment includes any election in which public issues are decided or public officials selected.3 Just as clearly the Amendment excludes social or business clubs. And the statute shows the congressional mandate against discrimination whether the voting on public issues and officials is conducted in community, state or nation. Size is not a standard.

It is significant that precisely the same qualifications as those prescribed by Texas...

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