United States v. Fox, Civ. A. No. 11625.

Decision Date02 November 1962
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 11625.
Citation211 F. Supp. 25
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. Mary Ethel FOX, Registrar of Voters, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, Lionel L. Lassus, Deputy Registrar of Voters, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, and State of Louisiana, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana


Kathleen Ruddell, U. S. Atty., New Orleans, La., St. John Barrett, Richard K. Parsons, Attys., Dept. of Justice, Washington, D. C., for the United States.

Leander H. Perez, Sidney W. Provensal, Jr., New Orleans, La., for defendants Mary Ethel Fox and Lionel L. Lassus.

Jack P. F. Gremillion, Atty. Gen. of Louisiana, M. E. Culligan, Jr., John E. Jackson, Jr., Henry J. Roberts, Jr., Weldon A. Cousins, Asst. Attys. Gen. of Louisiana, for State of Louisiana.

Civ. A. No. 11625, Division D.

AINSWORTH, District Judge.

This is a suit of the United States filed October 16, 1961, pursuant to the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1971 et seq., brought by the Attorney General in accordance with the provisions of Section 1971(c) against the State of Louisiana (as provided in Section 601(b) of the Civil Rights Act of 1960), the Registrar of Voters, Mary Ethel Fox, and Deputy Registrar of Voters, Lionel L. Lassus, of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

Plaintiff alleged that defendants, in conducting registration for voting in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, have engaged in racially discriminatory acts and practices against Negro citizens pursuant to a pattern and practice. It seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction against defendants, as well as immediate registration of all Negroes who have applied for registration since January 1953 and who possessed at the time of their applications the qualifications of the least qualified white person who was registered. Discovery depositions were taken by the parties on February 26, 27 and 28, March 1 and April 2, 1962, of certain white and Negro citizens of Plaquemines Parish.

Thereafter, on April 13, 1962, the United States filed a motion "for a preliminary injunction enjoining, during the pendency of this case, the defendants, their agents, employees, successors, and all persons in active concert or participation with them, from engaging in any act or practice which involves or results in distinctions based on race or color in the registration or voting processes in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, and specifically order said defendants:

"1. To register as a voter any Negro applicant who posseses the following qualifications and none of the following disqualifications:
"(a) That he is a citizen not less than twenty-one years of age;
"(b) That he has been a resident of Louisiana for one year; of Plaquemines Parish for six months, and of the precinct in which he offers to register as a voter for three months next preceding any election;
"(c) That he possesses the necessary qualifications regarding character and citizenship, as demonstrated by his willingness to take and sign the oath and affidavit prescribed by Louisiana law, and
"(d) If the applicant did not meet the foregoing qualifications as of January 18, 1955, that he is also able to read and write as shown by his making written application in his own hand.
"2. To point out to each Negro applicant any answers, errors or omissions on his application form, which, if uncorrected or uncompleted, will disqualify him, and to permit him to correct or complete the form.
"3. To cease requiring any Negro applicant to take or pass the so-called `constitutional interpretation test' as a prerequisite to qualifying as a voter.
"4. To cease using the application form as an examination or test for Negro applicants, and to use such application only as an information sheet for obtaining data relating to the Negro applicant's qualifications, as such form has been and is being used in registering white applicants.
"5. To place on the current registration rolls of Plaquemines Parish and all official copies thereof, the names of the following Negro citizens of Plaquemines Parish: (Here are listed 41 names.)
"6. To file monthly reports with the Clerk of Court reflecting the name, address, and race of each applicant for registration, the disposition of his application, and, if rejected, the reason therefor."

No finding of unconstitutionality of any Louisiana constitutional or statutory provision is sought by plaintiff.

Pre-trial conference was held in chambers on April 27, 1962, and the motion for a preliminary injunction was heard by the court without a jury on May 1, 2 and 3, 1962, at which time the court received in evidence on the offer of the United States all of the voting records, application forms and test forms of the defendant Registrar, all of the discovery depositions heretofore taken by the parties, and numerous other exhibits. A number of witnesses testified orally for both sides and defendant Registrar submitted in evidence a number of exhibits.

Briefs were submitted by all parties, proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law were submitted by the United States on July 16, 1962, and reply of defendant Registrar on July 23, 1962. We permitted the filing on September 20, 1962, of additional evidence in affidavit form by defendant Registrar, relating to a new system of registration inaugurated by the Registrar on September 10, 1962. The matter is now before us for decision on the motion for a preliminary injunction.

Plaquemines Parish is one of the smallest in population in Louisiana, the 1960 census having recorded 14,239 people. It has no urban population and 82.4% are classified as rural non-farm citizens and 17.6% as rural farm citizens. The non-white population is 38.7%. The parish is one of the richest in natural resources in the state. It is geographically situated below and south of New Orleans, on both sides of the Mississippi River, extending to the Gulf of Mexico. On November 17, 1954, the governing body of Plaquemines acting under authority of the applicable Louisiana statute1 adopted permanent registration which meant that all persons then on the registration rolls and all those permanently registered would remain on the rolls permanently unless they were stricken therefrom as provided by law because of nonvoting in any election within a consecutive two-year period. On December 9, 1954, the first constitutional interpretation test of the Louisiana Constitution was given to an applicant as a condition of registration. On January 18, 1955, the governing body of the parish adopted a resolution requiring the Registrar strictly to enforce the standards of registration, including the giving of a constitutional interpretation test to all applicants for registration.

The present Registrar, Miss Fox, has served in that office from July 1958 to date; her Deputy Lassus has served from November 1958 to date. The Registrar's predecessor in office, Giordano, served in that office from 1945 until Miss Fox took over the duties of the office, though he was actually dismissed from the office on September 1, 1956, by the State Board of Registrars. He served, however, until his successor, the present Registrar, Miss Fox, was qualified in July 1958. The Registrar and her Deputy are the only employees of the office which is situated in the Courthouse at the parish seat at Pointe a la Hache. Several years ago in order to accommodate the public several substations at strategic places in the parish were opened at which time additional help was secured to assist in registration of large numbers of persons. This practice has been discontinued and registration occurs only in the office at the Courthouse at the parish seat.

Registration in Louisiana is a necessary prerequisite to voting in any election. The qualifications of electors and method of registration are set forth in the Louisiana Constitution and Statutes. LSA-Const. Art. 8, § 1, LSA-R.S. 18:31-42. In addition to the usual qualifications, such as being of the age of majority, citizenship and residency, certain standards of good character and literacy must also be met. To establish an applicant's literacy, Louisiana Constitution Article 8, Section 1(c), requires that he shall be able to read and write in the English language or his mother tongue and shall demonstrate his ability to do so when he applies for registration by reading and writing from dictation by the Registrar any portion of the preamble of the United States Constitution; also, that he must make written application which shall contain certain essential facts to show that he is entitled to register to vote and the application shall be entirely written, dated and signed by him "in the presence of the registration officer or his deputy, without assistance or suggestion from any person or any memorandum whatever, other than the form of application." Section 1(d) of the constitutional provision referred to requires that the person shall be of good character and reputation and shall be able to understand and give a reasonable interpretation of any section of either the Constitutions of the United States or the State of Louisiana when read to him by the Registrar. The applicant must demonstrate that he is well disposed to the good order and happiness of the state by executing an affidavit that he will faithfully and fully abide by all the laws of Louisiana.

The Louisiana Legislature at its 1962 Regular Session passed Acts 62 and 63 which installed a new system of uniform procedures for the registration of voters in all parishes of the state, said by resolution of the State Board of Registration "to insure a system of non-discriminatory registration of voters with the view of affording all qualified voters the same opportunity for successful registration." The so-called objective "Citizenship Test of Our Constitution and Government" propounds to applicants six questions each with three optional answers set forth in the test card. There...

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