Snowden v. Hughes/Dissent Douglas

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United States Supreme Court

321 U.S. 1

Snowden  v.  Hughes

 Argued: and Submitted Dec. 13, 1943. --- Decided: Jan 17, 1944

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, with whom Mr. Justice MURPHY concurs, dissenting.

My disagreement with the majority of the Court is on a narrow ground. I agree that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment should not be distorted to make the federal courts the supervisor of the state elections. That would place the federal judiciary in a position 'to supervise and review the political administration of a state government by its own officials, and through its own courts' (Wilson v. State of North Carolina, 169 U.S. 586, 596, 18 S.Ct. 435, 439, 42 L.Ed. 865)-matters on which each State has the final say. I also agree that a candidate for public office is not denied the equal protection of the law in the constitutional sense merely because he is the victim of unlawful administration of a state election law. I believe, as the opinion of the Court indicates, that a denial of equal protection of the laws requires an invidious, purposeful discrimination. But I depart from the majority when it denies Snowden the opportunity of showing that he was in fact the victim of such discriminatory action. His complaint seems to me to be adequate to raise the issue. He charges a conspiracy to wilfully, maliciously and arbitrarily refuse to designate him as one of the nominees of the Republican party, that such action was an 'unequal' administration of the Illinois law and a denial to him of the equal protection of the laws, and that the conspiracy had that purpose. While the complaint could have drawn the issue more sharply, I think it defines it sufficiently to survive the motion to dismiss.

No doubt unconstitutional discriminations against a class, such as those which we have recently condemned in Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, 59 S.Ct. 872, 83 L.Ed. 1281, and Skinner v. State of Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 62 S.Ct. 1110, 86 L.Ed. 1655, may be more readily established than a discrimination against an individual per se. But though the proof is exacting, the latter may be shown as in Cochran v. State of Kansas, 316 U.S. 255, 62 S.Ct. 1068, 86 L.Ed. 1453, where a prisoner was prevented from profecting an appeal. The criteria are the same whether one has been denied the opportunity to be a candidate for public office, to enter private business, or to have the protection of the courts. If the law is 'applied and administered by public authority with an evil eye and an unequal hand, so as practically to make unjust and illegal discriminations between persons in similar circumstances' (Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 373, 374, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 1072, 1073, 30 L.Ed. 220), it is the same as if the invidious discrimination were incorporated in the law itself. If the action of the Illinois Board in effect were the same as an Illinois law that Snowden could not run for office, it would run afoul of the equal protection clause whether that discrimination were based on the fact that Snowden was a Negro, Catholic, Presbyterian, Free Mason, or had some other characteristic or belief which the authorities did not like. Snowden should be allowed the opportunity to make that showing no matter how thin his chances of success may seem.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).