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RAY v. BLAIR

decided: April 3, 1952.

RAY, CHAIRMAN OF THE STATE DEMOCRATIC EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF ALABAMA
v.
BLAIR



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ALABAMA.

Vinson, Reed, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark, Minton; Black took no part in the consideration or decision of this case; Frankfurter not having heard the argument, owing to illness, took no part in the disposition of this case.

Author: Reed

[ 343 U.S. Page 215]

 MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Supreme Court of Alabama upheld a peremptory writ of mandamus requiring the petitioner, the chairman of that state's Executive Committee of the Democratic Party, to certify respondent Edmund Blair, a member of that party, to the Secretary of State of Alabama as a candidate for Presidential Elector in the Democratic Primary to be held May 6, 1952. Respondent Blair was admittedly qualified as a candidate except that he refused to include the following quoted words in the pledge required of party candidates -- a pledge to aid and support "the nominees of the National Convention of the Democratic Party for President and Vice-President of the United States." The chairman's refusal of certification was based on that omission.

The mandamus was approved on the sole ground that the above requirement restricted the freedom of a federal elector to vote in his Electoral College for his choice for President. 257 Ala. , 57 So. 2d 395. The pledge was held void as unconstitutional under the Twelfth Amendment

[ 343 U.S. Page 216]

     of the Constitution of the United States.*fn1 Because the mandamus was based on this federal right specially claimed by respondent, we granted certiorari. 28 U. S. C. § 1257 (3); 343 U.S. 901.

On account of the limited time before the primary election date, this Court ordered prompt argument on March 31, 1952, after granting certiorari and handed down a per curiam decision on April 3, 343 U.S. 154, stating summarily our conclusion on the federal constitutional issue that determined the Alabama judgment. This opinion is to supplement that statement. Our mandate issued forthwith.

The controversy arose under the Alabama laws permitting party primaries. Title 17 of the Code of Alabama, 1940, as amended, provides for regular optional primary elections in that state on the first Tuesday in May of even years by any political party, as defined in the

[ 343 U.S. Page 217]

     chapter, at state cost. §§ 336, 337, 340, 343. They are subject to the same penalties and punishment provisions as regular state elections. § 339. Parties may select their own committee in such manner as the governing authority of the party may desire. § 341. Section 344 provides that the chairman of the state executive committee shall certify the candidates other than those who are candidates for county offices to the Secretary of State of Alabama. That official, within not less than 30 days prior to the time of holding the primary elections, shall certify these names to the probate judge of any county holding an election.

Every state executive committee is given the power to fix political or other qualifications of its own members. It may determine who shall be entitled and qualified to vote in the primary election or to be a candidate therein. The qualifications of voters and candidates may vary.*fn2

Section 348 requires a candidate to file his declaration of candidacy with the executive committee in the form prescribed by the governing body of the party. There is a provision, § 350, which reads as follows: "At the bottom of the ballot and after the name of the last candidate shall

[ 343 U.S. Page 218]

     be printed the following, viz: 'By casting this ballot I do pledge myself to abide by the result of this primary election and to aid and support all the nominees thereof in the ensuing general election.'"

On consideration of these sections in other cases the Supreme Court of Alabama has reached conclusions generally conformable to the current of authority. Section 347 has been said by the Supreme Court of Alabama in Ray v. Garner, 257 Ala. , 57 So. 2d 824, 826, decided March 27, 1952, to give full power to the state executive committee to determine "who shall be entitled and qualified to vote in primary elections or be candidates or otherwise participate therein . . . just so such Committee action does not run afoul of some statutory or constitutional provision."

The Garner case involved a pledge adopted by the State Democratic Executive Committee for printing on the primary ballot, reading as follows:

"By casting this ballot I do pledge myself to abide by the result of this Primary Election and to aid and support all the nominees thereof in the ensuing General Elections. I do further pledge myself to aid and support the nominees of the National Convention of the Democratic Party for President and Vice-President of the United States." 257 Ala., at , 57 So. 2d, at 825.

This is substantially the same pledge that created the controversy in this present case. The court also called attention approvingly to Lett v. Dennis, 221 Ala. 432, 433, 129 So. 33, 34, a case that required a candidate in the primary to follow a party requirement and make a public oath as to his vote in the past general election, where it was declared "a test by a political organization of party affiliation and party fealty is reasonable and proper to be prescribed for those participating in its primary elections

[ 343 U.S. Page 219]

     for nomination of candidates for office."*fn3 As to the power to prescribe tests for participation in primary elections, it was added in the Garner case that "in Alabama this prerogative is vested in the State Party Executive Committee, acting through its duly elected or chosen members. Smith v. McQueen, [232 Ala. 90, 166 So. 788]."*fn4 257 Ala., at , 57 So. 2d, at 826. The McQueen case involved the

[ 343 U.S. Page 220]

     selection of delegates to a national political convention. It was also said in Ray v. Garner ...


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