Terry v. Adams 345 U.S. 461 (1953)

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TERRY v. ADAMS 345 U.S. 461 (1953)

With confidence, we can call Terry the last of the series of "Texas primary cases" beginning with nixon v. herndon (1927). The decision is also a clear modern example of the "public function" strand of state action doctrine. In a Texas county, a group called the Jaybird Democratic Association conducted pre-primary elections, from which black voters were excluded. The winners of these elections consistently won both the Democratic primaries and the general elections. The Supreme Court held that black plaintiffs were entitled to a declaratory judgment that their exclusion from the Jaybird election amounted to state action in violation of the fifteenth amendment. There was no majority opinion. Three Justices said that the state could not constitutionally permit a racial exclusion from the only election that mattered in the county. The electoral process was inescapably public, subject to the Fifteenth Amendment's commands. Four other Justices said the Jaybirds were an auxiliary of the local Democratic party organization, and thus included within the doctrine of smith v. allwright (1944). Justice felix frankfurter found state action in the participation of state election officials as voters in the Jaybird election. Justice sherman minton dissented, calling the Jaybirds nothing but a "pressure group."

Kenneth L. Karst

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Terry v. Adams 345 U.S. 461 (1953)

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