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April 1, 1935



Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo

Author: Roberts

[ 295 U.S. Page 46]

 MR. JUSTICE ROBERTS delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner, by complaint filed in the Justice Court of Harris County, Texas, alleged that although he is a citizen of the United States and of the State and County, and a member of and believer in the tenets of the Democratic party, the respondent, the county clerk, a state officer, having as such only public functions to perform, refused him a ballot for a Democratic party primary election, because he is of the negro race. He demanded ten dollars damages. The pleading quotes articles of the Revised Civil Statutes of Texas which require the nomination of candidates at primary elections by any organized political party whose nominees received one hundred thousand votes or more at the preceding general election, and recites that agreeably to these enactments a Democratic primary election was held on July 28, 1934, at which petitioner had the right to vote. Referring to statutes

[ 295 U.S. Page 47]

     which regulate absentee voting at primary elections, the complaint states the petitioner expected to be absent from the county on the date of the primary election, and demanded of the respondent an absentee ballot, which was refused him in virtue of a resolution of the state Democratic convention of Texas, adopted May 24, 1932, which is:

"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."

The complaint charges that the respondent acted without legal excuse and his wrongful and unlawful acts constituted a violation of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments of the Federal Constitution.

A demurrer, assigning as reasons that the complaint was insufficient in law and stated no cause of action, was sustained; and a motion for a new trial, reasserting violation of the federal rights mentioned in the complaint, was overruled. We granted certiorari,*fn1 because of the importance of the federal question presented, which has not been determined by this court.*fn2 Our jurisdiction is clear, as the Justice Court is the highest state court in which a decision may be had,*fn3 and the validity of the constitution and statutes of the state was drawn in question on the ground of their being repugnant to the Constitution of the United States.*fn4

[ 295 U.S. Page 48]

     The charge is that respondent, a state officer, in refusing to furnish petitioner a ballot, obeyed the law of Texas, and the consequent denial of petitioner's right to vote in the primary election because of his race and color was state action forbidden by the Federal Constitution; and it is claimed that former decisions require us so to hold. The cited cases are, however, not in point. In Nixon v. Herndon, 273 U.S. 536, a statute which enacted that "in no event shall a negro be eligible to participate in a Democratic party primary election held in the State of Texas," was pronounced offensive to the Fourteenth Amendment. In Nixon v. Condon, 286 U.S. 73, a statute was drawn in question which provided that "every political party in this State through its State Executive Committee shall have the power to prescribe the qualifications of its own members and shall in its own way determine who shall be qualified to vote or otherwise participate in such political party." We held this was a delegation of state power to the state executive committee and made its determination conclusive irrespective of any expression of the party's will by its convention, and therefore the committee's action barring negroes from the party primaries was state action prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. Here the qualifications of citizens to participate in party counsels and to vote at party primaries have been declared by the representatives of the party in convention assembled, and this action upon its face is not state action. The question whether under the constitution and laws of Texas such a declaration as to party membership amounts to state action was expressly reserved in Nixon v. Condon, supra, pp. 84-85. Petitioner insists that for various reasons the resolution of the state convention limiting membership in the Democratic party in Texas to white voters does not relieve the exclusion of negroes from participation in Democratic primary elections of its true nature as the act of the state.

[ 295 U.S. Page 49]

     for general elections; by Articles 2986, 2987 and 2990 permits the use of voting booths, guard rails, and ballot boxes which by other statutes are provided for general elections; by Articles 2998 and 3104 requires the officials of primary elections to take the same oath as officials at the general elections; by Article 3002 defines the powers of judges at primary elections; by Articles 3003-3025 provides elaborately for the purity of the ballot box; by Article 3028 commands that the sealed ballot boxes be delivered to the county clerk after the election, as is provided by another article for the general election; and by Article 3041 confers jurisdiction of election contests upon district courts, as is done by another article with respect to general elections. A perusal of these provisions, so it is ...

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