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US Supreme Court (Smith v Allwright) "white primaries" unconstitutional

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Smith v Allwright

321 U.S. 649

Smith v. Allwright (No. 51)

Argued: November 10, 12, 1943

Decided: April 3, 1944

131 F. 2d 593, reversed.


1. The right of a citizen of the United States to vote for the nomination of candidates for the United States Senate and House of Representatives in a primary which is an integral part of the elective process is a right secured by the Federal Constitution, and this right of the citizen may not be abridged by the State on account of his race or color. P. 661.

2. Whether the exclusion of citizens from voting on account of their race or color has been effected by action of the State -- rather than of individuals or of a political party -- is a question upon which the decision of the courts of the State is not binding on the federal courts, but which the latter must determine for themselves. P. 662.

3. Upon examination of the statutes of Texas regulating primaries, held: that the exclusion of Negroes from voting in a Democratic primary to select nominees for a general election -- although, by resolution of a state convention of the party, its membership was limited to white citizens -- was State action in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. Grove v. Townsend, 295 U.S. 45, overruled. Pp. 663, 666.

When, as here, primaries become a part of the machinery for choosing officials, state and federal, the same tests to determine [p650] the character of discrimination or abridgment should be applied to the primary as are applied to the general election. P. 664.

4. While not unmindful of the desirability of its adhering to former decisions of constitutional questions, this Court is not constrained to follow a previous decision which, upon reexamination, is believed erroneous, particularly one which involves the application of a constitutional principle, rather than an interpretation of the Constitution to evolve the principle itself. P. 665.

Certiorari, 319 U.S. 738, to review the affirmance of a judgment for the defendants in a suit for damages under 8 U.S.C. § 43.





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