Smith v. Allwright, Election Judge, et al.
Decided on Apr. 3, 1944; 321 US 649


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Racial discrimination, voting rights

B. Legal Question Presented:

Was the refusal by Texas state officials to allow Appellant to cast a ballot in the Democratic primary election, allegedly because of his "race and color," a state or a private action?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Appellant filed a law suit against Respondents claiming damages "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.

Respondents... 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." 

The District Court for the Southern District of Texas denied the relief to Appellant and the Court of Appeals affirmed. On certiorari the US Supreme Court reversed.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Messrs. Thurgood Marshall, of Baltimore, Md., and William H. Hastie, of Washington, D.C., for petitioner. No appearance for respondents.

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

IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"It may now be taken as a postulate that the right to vote in a primary for the nomination of candidates without discrimination by the State, like the right to vote in a general election, is a right secured by the Constitution... By the terms of the Fifteenth Amendment that right may not be abridged by any state on account of race [or color].

Primary elections are conducted by the party under state statutory authority... The state courts are given exclusive original jurisdiction of contested elections and of mandamus proceedings to compel party officers to perform their statutory duties.

We think that this statutory system for the selection of party nominees for inclusion on the general election ballot makes the party which is required to follow these legislative directions an agency of the state in so far as it determines the participants in a primary election. The party takes its character as a state agency from the duties imposed upon it by state statutes; the duties do not become matters of private law because they are performed by a political party.

The United States is a constitutional democracy. Its organic law grants to all citizens a right to participate in the choice of elected officials without restriction by any state because of race. This grant to the people of the opportunity for choice is not to be nulified by a state through casting its electoral process in a form which permits a private organization to practice racial discrimination in the election. Constitutional rights would be of little value if they could be thus indirectly denied."

The US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Reed, S. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Frankfurter, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stone, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Douglas,W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rutledge, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Jackson, R. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Murphy, F. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Roberts, O. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

    The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment the Court of Appeals; the Supreme Court reversed in a 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.