Digital History
Texas's Ban on Blacks serving on Grand Juries Overturned
Digital History ID 3702

Author:   Smith v. Allwright

Annotation: In the midst of World War II, the Supreme Court reversed its 1935 decision in Grovey v. Townsend and ruled that political parties had no right to determine who could vote in their primary elections.

Document: The Democratic party on May 24, 1932, in a State Convention adopted the following resolution, which has not since been 'amended, abrogated, annulled or avoided':

'Be it resolved that all white citizens of the State of Texas who are qualified to vote under the Constitution and laws of the State shall be eligible to membership in the [321 U.S. 649, 657] Democratic party and, as such, entitled to participate in its deliberations.' It was by virtue of this resolution that the respondents refused to permit the petitioner to vote.

… The Fourteenth Amendment forbids a state from making or enforcing any law which abridges the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States and the Fifteenth Amendment specifically interdicts any denial or abridgement by a state of the right of citizens to vote on account of color. Respondents appeared in the District Court and the Circuit Court of Appeals and defended on the ground that the Democratic party of Texas is a voluntary organization with members banded together for the purpose of selecting individuals of the group representing the common political beliefs as candidates in the general election. As such a voluntary organization, it was claimed, the Democratic party is free to select its own membership and limit to whites participation in the party primary. Such action, the answer asserted, does not violate the Fourteenth, Fifteenth or Seventeenth Amendment as officers of government cannot be chosen at primaries and the Amendments are applicable only to general elections where governmental officers are actually elected. Primaries, it is said, are political party affairs, handled by party not governmental officers.

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