Williams v. Mississippi

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United States Supreme Court

170 U.S. 213

WILLIAMS  v.  MISSISSIPPI

At June term, 1896, of the circuit court of Washington county, Miss., the plaintiff in error was indicted by a grand jury composed entirely of white men for the crime of murder. On the 15th day of June he made a motion to quash the indictment, which was in substance as follows, omitting repetitions, and retaining the language of the motion as nearly as possible:

Now comes the defendant in this cause, Henry Williams by name, and moves the circuit court of Washington county, Miss., to quash the indictment herein filed, and upon which it is proposed to try him for the alleged offense of murder: (1) Because the laws by which the grand jury was selected, organized, summoned, and charged, which presented the said indictment, are unconstitutional and repugnant to the spirit and letter of the constitution of the United States of America, fourteenth amendment thereof, in this: that the constitution prescribes the qualifications of electors, and that, to be a juror, one must be an elector; that the constitution also requires that those offering to vote shall produce to the election officers satisfactory evidence that they have paid their taxes; that the legislature is to provide means for enforcing the constitution, and, in the exercise of this authority, enacted section 3643, also section 3644 of 1892, which respectively provide that the election commissioners shall appoint three election managers, and that the latter shall be judges of the qualifications of electors, and are required 'to examine on oath any person duly registered and offering to vote touching his qualifications as an elector.' And then the motion states that 'the registration roll is not prima facie evidence of an elector's right to vote, but the list of those persons having been passed upon by the various district election managers of the county to compose the registration book of voters as named in section 2358 of said Code of 1892, and that there was no registration books of voters prepared for the guidance of said officers of said county at the time said grand jury was drawn.' It is further alleged that there is no statute of the state providing for the procurement of any registration books of voters of said county, and (it is alleged in detail) the terms of the cos titution and the section of the Code mentioned, and the discretion given to the officers, 'is but a scheme on the part of the framers of that constitution to abridge the suffrage of the colored electors in the state of Mississippi on account of the previous condition of servitude by granting a discretion to the said officers as mentioned in the several sections of the constitution of the state and the statute of the state adopted under the said constitution. The use of said discretion can be and has been used in the said Washington county to the end complained of.' After some detail to the same effect, it is further alleged: 'That the constitutional convention was composed of 134 members, only one of whom was a negro. That under prior laws there were 190,000 colored voters and 69,000 white voters. The makers of the new constitution arbitrarily refused to submit it to the voters of the state for approval, but ordered it adopted, and an election to be held immediately under it, which election was held under the election ordinances of the said constitution in November, 1891, and the legislature assembled in 1892, and enacted the statutes complained of, for the purpose to discriminate aforesaid, and but for that the 'defendant's race would have been represented impartially on the grand jury which presented this indictment,' and hence he is deprived of the equal protection of the laws of the state. It is further alleged that the state has not reduced its representation in congress, and generally for the reasons aforesaid, and because the indictment should have been returned under the constitution of 1869 and statute of 1889, it is null and void. The motion concludes as follows: 'Further, the defendant is a citizen of the United States, and, for the many reasons herein named, asks that the indictment be quashed, and he be recognized to appear at the next term of the court.'

This motion was accompanied by four affidavits, subscribed and sworn to before the clerk of the court, on June 15, 1896, to wit:

(1) An affidavit of the defendant, 'who, being duly sworn, deposes and says that the facts set forth in the foregoing motion are true to the best of his knowledge, of the language of the constitution and the statute of the state mentioned in said motion, and upon information and belief as to the other facts, and that the affiant verily believes the information to be reliable and true.'

(2) Another affidavit of the defendant, 'who, being first duly sworn, deposes and says that he has heard the motion to quash the indictment herein read, and that he thoroughly understands the same, and that the facts therein stated are true, to the best of his knowledge and belief. As to the existence of the several sections of the state constitution, and the several sections of the state statute, mentioned in said motion to quash, further affiant states that the facts stated in said motion, touching the manner and method peculiar of the said election, by which the delegates to said constitutional convention were elected, and the purpose for which said objectionable provisions were enacted, and the fact that the said discretion complained of as aforesaid has abridged the suffrage of the number mentioned therein, for the purpose named therein,-all such material allegations are true, to the best of affiant's knowledge and belief, and the fact of the race and color of the prisoner in this cause, and that race and color of the voters of the state whose elective franchise is abridged as alleged therein, and the fact that they who are discriminated against, as aforesaid, are citizens of the United States, and that prior to the adoption of the said constitution and said statute the said state was represented in congress by seven representatives in the lower house, and two senators, and that since the adoption of the said objectionable laws there has been no reduction of said representation in congress. All allegations herein, as stated in said motion aforesaid, are true, to the best of affiant's knowledge and belief.'

(3) An affidavit of John H. Dixon, 'who, being duly sworn, deposes and says that he had heard the motion to quash the indictment filed in the Henry Williams Case, and thoroughly understands the same, and that he has also heard the affidavit sworn to by said Henry Williams carefully read to him, and thoroughly understands the same. And in the same manner the facts are sworn to in the said affidavit, and the same facts alleged therein upon information and belief are hereby adopted as in all things the sworn allegations of affiant, and the facts alleged therein, as upon knowledge and belief, are made hereby the allegations of affiant upon his knowledge and belief.'

(4) An affidavit of C. J. Jones, 'who, being duly sworn, deposes and says that he has read carefully the affidavit filed in the John Dixon Case sworn to by him (said C. J. Jones), and that he, said affiant, thoroughly understands the same, and adopts the said allegations therein as his deposition in this case upon hearing this motion to quash the indictment herein, and that said allegations are in all things correct and true as therein alleged.'

The motion was denied, and the defendant excepted. A motion was then made to remove the cause to the United States circuit court, based substantially on the same grounds as the motion to quash the indictment. This was also denied, and an exception reserved.

The accused was tried by a jury composed entirely of white men, and convicted. A motion for a new trial was denied, and the accused sentenced to be hanged. An appeal to the supreme court was taken, and the judgment of the court below was affirmed.

The following are the assignments of error:

(1) The trial court erred in denying motion to quash the indictment, and petitioned for removal.

(2) The trial court erred in denying motion for new trial, and pronouncing death penalty under the verdict.

(3) The supreme court erred in affirming the judgment of the trial court.

The sections of the constitution of Mississippi and the laws referred to in the motion of the plaintiff in error are printed in the margin. [1]

Cornelius J. Jones, for plaintiff in error.

C. B. Mitchell, for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice McKENNA, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

Notes[edit]

^1  The three sections of article 12 of the constitution of the state of Mississippi above referred to read as follows:

'Sec. 241. Every male inhabitant of this state except id ots, insane persons and Indians not taxed, who is a citizen of the United States, twenty-one years old and upwards, who has resided in this state two years, and one year in the election district, or in the incorporated city or town in which he offers to vote, and who is duly registered as provided in this article, and who has never been convicted of bribery, burglary, theft, arson, obtaining money or goods under false pretenses, perjury, forgery, embezzlement or bigamy, and who has paid, on or before the 1st day of February of the year in which he shall offer to vote all taxes which may have been legally required of him, and which he has had an opportunity of paying according to law for the two preceding years, and who shall produce to the officer holding the election satisfactory evidence that he has paid said taxes, is declared to be a qualified elector; but any minister of the gospel in charge of an organized church shall be entitled to vote after six months' residence in the election district, if otherwise qualified.

'Sec. 242. The legislature shall provide by law for the registration of all persons entitled to vote at any election, and all persons offering to register shall take the following oath or affirmation: 'I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I am twenty-one years old (or I will be before the next election in this county) and that I will have resided in this state two years and _____ election district of _____ county one year next preceding the ensuing election (or if it be stated in the oath that the person proposing to register is a minister of the gospel in charge of an organized church, then it will be sufficient to aver therein two years' residence in the state and six months in said election district) and am now in good faith a resident of the same, and that I am not disqualified from voting by reason of having been convicted of any crime named in the constitution of this state as a disqualification to be an elector; that I will truly answer all questions propounded to me concerning my antecedents so far as they relate to my right to vote, and also as to my residence before my citizenship in this district; that I will faithfully support the constitution of the United States and of the state of Mississippi, and will bear true faith and allegiance to the same. So held me God.' In registering voters in cities and towns not wholly in one election district the name of such city or town may be substituted in the oath for the election district. Any wilful and corrupt false statement in said affidavit, or in answer to any material question propounded as herein authorized shall be perjury.'

'Sec. 244. On and after the first day of January, A. D. 1892, every elector shall, in addition to the foregoing qualifications, be able to read any section of the constitution of this state; or he shall be able to understand the same when read to him, or give a reasonable interpretation thereof. A new registration shall be made before the next ensuing election after January the first, A. D. 1892.'

Section 264 of article 14 of the constitution of the state of Mississippi, above referred to, reads as follows:

'Sec. 264. No person shall be a grand or petit juror unless a qualified elector and able to read and write; but the want of any such qualification in any juro shall not vitiate any indictment or verdict. The legislature shall provide by law for procuring a list of persons so qualified, and the drawing therefrom of grand and petit jurors for each term of the circuit court.'

The three sections of the Code of 1892 of the State of Mississippi above referred to read as follows:

'Sec. 2358. How List of Jurors Procured. The board of supervisors at the first meeting in each year, or a subsequent meeting if not done at the first, shall select and make a list of persons to serve as jurors in the circuit

court for the next two terms to be held more than thirty days afferwards, and as a guide in making the list, they shall use the registration books of voters; and it shall select and list the names of qualified persons of good intelligence, sound judgment and fair character, and shall take them as nearly as it conveniently can from the several election districts in proportion to the number of the qualified persons in each, excluding all who have served on the regular panel within two years, if there be not a deficiency of jurors.'

'Sec. 3643. Managers of Election Appointed. Prior to every election the commissioners of election shall appoint three persons for each election district to be managers of the election, who shall not all be of the same political party, if suitable persons of different political parties can be had in the district, and if any person appointed shall fail to attend and serve, the managers present, if any, may designate one to fill his place, and if the commissioners of election fail to make the appointments, or in case of the failure of all those appointed to attend and serve, any three qualified electors present when the polls should be opened may act as managers.

'Sec. 3644. Duties and Powers of Managers. The managers shall take care that the election is conducted fairly and agreeably to law, and they shall be judges of the qualifications of electors. and may examine on oath any person duly registered and offering to vote touching his qualifications as an elector, which oath any of the managers may administer.'

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).