Terry v. Adams/Dissent Minton

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Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

345 U.S. 461

Terry  v.  Adams

 Argued: Jan. 16, 1953. --- Decided: May 4, 1953

Mr. Justice MINTON, dissenting.

I am not concerned in the least as to what happens to the Jaybirds or their unworthy scheme. I am concerned about what this Court says is state action within the meaning of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. For, after all, this Court has power to redress a wrong under that Amendment only if the wrong is done by the State. That has been the holding of this Court since the earliest cases. The Chief Justice for a unanimous Court in the recent case of Shelley v. Kraemer, 334 U.S. 1, 13, 68 S.Ct. 836, 842, 92 L.Ed. 1161, stated the law as follows:

'Since the decision of this Court in the Civil Rights Cases, 1883, 109 U.S. 3, 3 S.Ct. 18, 27 L.Ed. 835, the principle has become firmly embedded in our constitutional law that the action inhibited by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment is only such action as may fairly be said to be that of the States. That Amendment erects no shield against merely private conduct, however discriminatory or wrongful.' (Emphasis supplied.) [1]

As I understand Mr. Justice BLACK's opinion, he would have this Court redress the wrong even if it was individual action alone. I can understand that praiseworthy position, but it seems to me it is not in accord with the Constitution. State action must be shown.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER recognizes that it must be state action but he seems to think it is enough to constitute state action if a state official participates in the Jaybird primary. That I cannot follow. For it seems clear to me that everything done by a person who is an official is not done officially and as a representative of the State. However, I find nothing in this record that shows the state or county officials participating in the Jaybird primary.

Mr. Justice CLARK seems to recognize that state action must be shown. He finds state action in assumption, not in facts. This record will be searched in vain for one iota of state action sufficient to support an anemic inference that the Jaybird Association is in any way associated with or forms a part of or cooperates in any manner with the Democratic Party of the County or State, or with the State. It calls itself the Jaybird Democratic Association because its interest is only in the candidates of the Democratic Party in the county, a position understandable in Texas. It is a gratuitous assumption on the part of Mr. Justice CLARK that: 'Quite evidently the Jaybird Democratic Association operates as an auxiliary of the local Democratic Party organization, selecting its nominees and using its machinery for carrying out an admitted design of destroying the weight and effect of Negro ballots in Fort Bend County.' The following stipulation in the record shows the unsubstantiality of that statement just quoted from Mr. Justice CLARK's opinion. I quote the stipulation:

'There is no compulsion upon any person who receives the indorsement of the Jaybird Democratic Association of Fort Bend County, Texas, for a particular office, to run for that office or any other office. In the event such indorsee of the Association does desire to run for such office he may do so; but if he does so run for such office he must himself file his application with the Executive Chairman or Committee of the Democratic Party for the position on the Democratic Party ballot for the July primary of such Democratic Party, and must himself pay the fee as provided by law. Neither the Jaybird Democratic Association nor its Executive Committee files an application with the Democratic Party Executive Committee or Chairman that the Jaybird Democratic Association nominee be placed on the ballot for the Democratic Party July primary election.

There is nothing on the ballot of the Democratic Party primary to indicate that any person appearing thereon does or does not have the indorsement of the Jaybird Democratic Association.

'The name of the applicant for a place on the Democratic Party ballot is not placed on said ballot unless he complies with the laws of the State of Texas, even though such applicant were indorsed by the Jaybird Democratic Association; and every qualified applicant who makes the required application to the Democratic Executive Committee and pays the requisite fee is placed on the Democratic Party primary ballot for the July Democratic primary though not indorsed by the Jaybird Democratic Association.

'No member of the Negro race, nor any other person qualified under the laws of the State of Texas to become a candidate, has been refused a place on the Democratic Party primary ballot for Fort Bend County, Texas, by the Democratic Party.'

Neither is there any more evidence that the Jaybird Association avails itself of or conforms in any manner to any law of the State of Texas. As to the Jaybird Association's relation to the State, I again quote the stipulation in the record:

'There is no political organization in Fort Bend County, Texas, by the official name or designation 'Jaybird Party'. At all times since 1889, however, there has been and still is, an organization in Fort Bend County, Texas, by the name of 'Jaybird Democratic Association of Fort Bend County, Texas'. Said Association, however, has not since 1938, and it does not: (a) Have a State organization; (b) Follow or attempt to comply with any of the provisions of Article 3163 of the Revised Statutes of Texas, or of any other statutes of the State of Texas with reference to primary elections or general elections; (c) Hold any convention or 'primary election' on the legal primary election day, to-wit: The fourth Saturday in July or the fourth Saturday in August, of any year; (d) Hold any primary convention in any precinct on the Saturday preceding a legal primary election day; (e) By the chairman of a county committee, or otherwise, certify to the County Clerk of Fort Bend County, Texas, or to the County Judge thereof, or to any official committee or other representative of the Democratic or Republican party, any nominations or indorsements made by the Association; (f) Have, or cause to be, printed in a separate column headed by the Association name any nominations on any official ballot used, or for use in, a primary or general election held on a legal primary election day or general election day; (nor does the name, Jaybird Democratic Association of Fort Bend County, Texas, or any part or indication thereof, appear on any ballot in any election other than the primaries, or other special voting occasions, held by the Association itself and alone); (g) Make, or cause to be made, a written application to the County Judge for such printing, signed and sworn to by 3% of the entire vote cast in Fort Bend County at the last preceding general election.

'No officer nor Committee of such Association certifies the result of the Association membership vote, nor any nominations of the Association, to the County Clerk of Fort Bend County, Texas, nor to the Democratic Party Executive Committee nor to the Committee or official of any party with a state-wide organization.

'In the last few years some of the members of the Negro race have offered to vote in the Democratic Party primaries and no member of the Negro race who had qualified under the laws of the State of Texas to vote has been refused the right to vote. Some of the members of the Negro race have offered to vote in a general election in Fort Bend County, Texas, and no member of the Negro race qualified to vote has been refused a vote.

'The Jaybird Democratic Association of Fort Bend County, Texas, is not, and does not have, a state organization, but limits its May and June Association primaries to only the county and precinct offices, except that the membership of the Association does vote its preference for the office of District Clerk in Fort Bend County.

'The persons seeking the indorsement of the Jaybird Democratic Association of Fort Bend County Texas, at its May or June Primaries are not required by the Association to file any expense account and do not file expense accounts with any State or local official, Committee or Board.'

These stipulations from the record show the complete absence of any compliance with the state law or practice, or cooperation by or with the State. Even if it be said to be a political organization, the Jaybird Association avails itself of no state law open to political organizations, such as Art. 3163.

However, its action is not forbidden by the law of the State of Texas. Does such failure of the State to act to prevent individuals from doing what they have the right as individuals to do amount to state action? I venture the opinion it does not.

Mr. Justice CLARK's opinion agrees with District Judge Kennerly that this Jaybird Democratic Association is a political party whose activities fall within the Fifteenth Amendment's self-executing ban. In the same paragraph, he admits that not all meetings for political action come under the constitutional ban. Surely white or colored members of any political faith or economic belief may hold caucuses. It is only when the State by action of its legislative bodies or action of some of its officials in their official capacity cooperates with such political party or gives it direction in its activities that the Federal Constitution may come into play. A political organization not using state machinery or depending upon state law to authorize what it does could not be within the ban of the Fifteenth Amendment. As the stipulation quoted shows, the Jaybird Association did not attempt to conform or in any way to comply with the statutes of Texas covering primaries. No action of any legislative or quasi-legislative body or of any state official or agency ever in any manner denied the vote to Negroes, even in the Jaybird primaries.

So it seems to me clear there is no state action, and the Jaybird Democratic Association is in no sense a part of the Democratic Party. If it is a political organization, it has made no attempt to use the State, or the State to use it, to carry on its poll.

Rice v. Elmore, 4 Cir., 165 F.2d 387, is cited as authority for the position of the petitioners. In that case, South Carolina had repealed all its laws relating to the conduct of primaries. The only primary conducted was by the Democratic Party of South Carolina in accordance with rules adopted by the Party. It was stipulated on the trial of that case that the Democratic Party 'conducts nominating primaries and thereafter prints its ballots for use in the General Elections with the names of its nominees thereon which ballots are distributed by party officials and placed at the General Election precincts in South Carolina for use by any electors who choose to use such ballow in voting in any such General Election in South Carolina.' The District Court specifically found in Finding 19: 'There is no General Election ballot in South Carolina. The only printed ballots available in General Elections in South Carolina are ballots prepared by the political parties giving only the names of their respective candidates.' Finding 14 stated: 'During the past 25 years the Democratic Party of South Carolina has been the only political party in South Carolina which has held state-wide primaries for nomination of candidates for Federal and State offices.'

Thus it will be seen that there the Democratic Party furnished not only the candidate in the general election, but it also furnished the only ballot one could vote in that election. So the State in the general election accepted the ballot of the Democratic Party as its official ballot, and on that ballot no Negro had been permitted to vote. Clearly, the State adopted the Democratic Party's procedure as its action. The State and the Democratic Party effectively cooperated to carry on this two-step election procedure.

No such action is taken by the Jaybird Association. It neither files, certifies, nor supplies anything for the primary or election. The winner of the poll in the Jaybird Association contest files in the Democratic primary, where he may and sometimes has received opposition, and successful opposition, in precinct contests for County Commissioner, Justice of the Peace and Constable. There is no rule of the Jaybird Association that requires the successful party in its poll to file in the Democratic primary or elsewhere. It is all individual, voluntary action. Neither the State nor the Democratic Party avails itself of the action of or cooperates in any manner with the Jaybird Association.

Smith v. Allwright, 321 U.S. 649, 64 S.Ct. 757, 88 L.Ed. 987, is in no manner controlling. In that case, the State had set up the machinery for the Democratic Party to conduct its primary. The State of Texas made the Democratic Party its agent for the conducting of a Democratic primary. Of course, the Democratic Party could not run that primary, set up under the auspices of the State, in a manner to exclude citizens of Texas therefrom because of their race. That such is the basis of the Court's opinion in Smith v. Allwright, supra, is apparent from the following quotation taken from that case:

'Primary elections are conducted by the party under state statutory authority. The county executive committee selects precinct election officials and the county, district or state executive committees, respectively, canvass the returns. These party committees or the state convention certify the party's candidates to the appropriate officers for inclusion on the official ballot for the general election. No name which has not been so certified may appear upon the ballot for the general election as a candidate of a political party. * * *

'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.' 321 U.S. 649, 663, 64 S.Ct. 757, 764. (Emphasis supplied.) This case does not hold that a group of Democrats, white, black, male, female, native-born or foreign, economic royalists or workingmen, may not caucus or conduct a straw vote. What the Jaybird Association did here was to conduct as individuals, separate and apart from the Democratic Party or the State, a straw vote as to who should receive the Association's endorsement for county and precinct offices. It has been successful in seeing that those who receive its endorsement are nominated and elected. That is true of concerted action by any group. In numbers there is strength. In organization there is effectiveness. Often a small minority of stockholders control a corporation. Indeed, it is almost an axiom of corporate management that a small, cohesive group may control, especially in the larger corporations where the holdings are widely diffused.

I do not understand that concerted action of individuals which is successful somehow becomes state action. However, the candidates endorsed by the Jaybird Association have several times been defeated in primaries and elections. Usually but not always since 1938, only the Jaybird-endorsed candidate has been on the Democratic official ballot in the County.

In the instant case, the State of Texas has provided for elections and primaries. This is separate and apart and wholly unrelated to the Jaybird Association's activities. Its activities are confined to one County where a group of citizens have appointed themselves the censors of those who would run for public offices. Apparently so far they have succeeded in convincing the voters of this County in most instances that their supported candidates should win. This seems to differ very little from situations common in many other places far north of the Mason-Dixon line, such as areas where a candidate must obtain the approval of a religious group. In other localities, candidates are carefully selected by both parties to give proper weight to Jew, Protestant and Catholic, and certain posts are considered the sole possession of certain ethnic groups. The propriety of these practices is something the courts sensibly have left to the good or bad judgment of the electorate. It must be recognized that elections and other public business are influenced by all sorts of pressures from carefully organized groups. We have pressure from labor unions, from the National Association of Manufacturers, from the Silver Shirts, from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, from the Ku Klux Klan and others. Far from the activities of these groups being properly labeled as state action, under either the Fourteenth or the Fifteenth Amendment, they are to be considered as attempts to influence or obtain state action.

The courts do not normally pass upon these pressure groups, whether their causes are good or bad, highly successful or only so-so. It is difficult for me to see how this Jaybird Association is anything but such a pressure group. Apparently it is believed in by enough people in Fort Bend County to obtain a majority of the votes for its approved candidates. This differs little from the situation in many parts of the 'Bible Belt' where a church stamp of approval or that of the Anti-Saloon League must be put on any candidate who does not want to lose the election.

The State of Texas in its elections and primaries takes no cognizance of this Jaybird Association. The State treats its decisions apparently with the same disdain as it would the approval or condemnation of judicial candidates by a bar association poll of its members.

In this case the majority have found that this pressure group's work does constitute state action. The basis of this conclusion is rather difficult to ascertain. Apparently it derives mainly from a dislike of the goals of the Jaybird Association. I share that dislike. I fail to see how it makes state action. I would affirm.


^1  The Fifteenth Amendment as here involved is also directed at State action only.

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).