Smith v. Allwright 321 U.S. 649 (1944)

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SMITH v. ALLWRIGHT 321 U.S. 649 (1944)

In 1935 the Supreme Court had held in grovey v. townsend that the Texas Democratic party convention's rule excluding black voters from primary elections was not state action and thus violated no constitutional rights. Allwright involved the same question, raised in the same manner; Smith alleged that he was excluded from the Texas Democratic primary because of his race and sought damages from election officials under federal civil rights laws. The case had become a plausible candidate for Supreme Court review because in united states v. classic (1941) the Court had reconsidered the nature of a primary election by way of upholding Congress's power to forbid fraud in primary elections of nominees for federal offices. In Classic, the Court had concluded that Louisiana primary elections were, by law, an integral part of the machinery for electing officers.

Applying the Classic reasoning in Allwright, the Court overruled Grovey v. Townsend and held that the state's provision of machinery for primary elections was sufficiently connected with the party's conduct of those elections to satisfy the state action limitation of the fifteenth amendment. Because that amendment forbade a state to deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, Smith was entitled to damages if he could prove his allegations. Justice stanley f. reed wrote for the Court.

Justice owen roberts, who had written for a unanimous Court in Grovey, dissented, complaining that the over-ruling of a decision after only nine years tended "to bring adjudications of this tribunal into the same class as a restricted railroad ticket, good on this day and train only." The obvious question was: why had Roberts joined in the Classic decision? Contemporary accounts suggest that at least some of the other Justices thought Roberts had been "duped" into concurring in Classic, and that Roberts knew they thought so. In the years between Grovey and Allwright, President franklin d. roosevelt had made seven appointments to the Court. Justice Roberts's lone companion from the earlier days was Chief Justice harlan fiske stone, who had written the Classic opinion.

Kenneth L. Karst
(1986)

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Smith v. Allwright 321 U.S. 649 (1944)

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