Carter v. Jury Commission of Greene County

PETITIONER: Willie Carter Sr., John Head, Rev. Percy McShan
RESPONDENT: Jury Commission of Greene County et al.
LOCATION: 17th Judicial Circuit Green County Alabama Jury Commission

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)

CITATION: 396 US 320 (1970)
ARGUED: Oct 21, 1969
DECIDED: Jan 19, 1970

Leslie Hall - For the Respondent
Norman C. Amaker - For the Petitioner

Facts of the case

African-American citizens of Greene County Alabama filed a class action against the Greene County, Alabama Jury Commission, alleging racial discrimination in the selection of potential jurors, and the Governor of Alabama, for appointing an all-white jury commission in a predominantly African-American county. The class members alleged that they were qualified for jury service but never summoned. They sought declaratory and injunctive relief declaring that the Alabama statute governing jury selection was unconstitutional and enjoining future enforcement of the statute. The Alabama statute provided that potential jurors should be “generally reputed to be honest and intelligent” and “esteemed in the community for their integrity, good character and sound judgment.” The district court held that the Jury Commission did not follow the Alabama statute and systematically discriminated in preparing jury lists. The court ordered a new list created in compliance with the Alabama statute and constitutional principles. The court declined to invalidate the statue or compel the Governor to appoint African-Americans to the jury commission. This case was heard on direct appeal.


Is the Alabama statute unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Was the appointment of a white only jury commission unconstitutional?


Media for Carter v. Jury Commission of Greene County

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 21, 1969 in Carter v. Jury Commission of Greene County

Warren E. Burger:

arter against the Jury Commission of Greene County, Alabama.

Mr. Amaker.

Norman C. Amaker:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This case arising from Greene County, Alabama is on appeal from a three-judge court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Like the Turner case heard at the close of yesterday's session concerning Georgia's jury selection law, the issue posed is that of the constitutional validity under the Fourteenth Amendment of Alabama statute which vest successive discretion in jury officials in that state in the selection of jurors.

Our submission is that the use of statutes such as these in those states like Alabama which have a demonstrated history of discrimination against black people in the jury selection process is the major cause of the continuing phenomenon of racial exclusion of blacks from the opportunity for jury service in state courts.

That's a phenomenon which is all too common place as this Court's experience in jury discrimination cases for the past 90 years attests.

Supposing you didn't have this history of discrimination, would you still say the statute is unconstitutional?

Norman C. Amaker:

If you didn't have that history of discrimination, I would say that the statute is susceptible of abuse and therefore, if a different kind of demonstrated injury were made to appear that the Court would have to hold the statute unconstitutional.

I'm going to sharpen the question.

Supposing there was no evidence that it was affirmatively demonstrated that there had been no discrimination other to say about the statute?

Norman C. Amaker:

I would say that the statute is vague, lacking in standards, susceptible of abuse.

I would say that the Court would knock the issue of whether the statute was constitutional would not be present because there would be no history of the application of the vague standards to a situation in which one could demonstrate that constitutional rights had been violated.

That's not this case.

Every single -- all of the vagueness cases in this Court, the free expression area and the criminal area are cases in which some litigant came to the Court and said that the cause of these vague standards which give excessive discretion to officials, my constitutional rights are being violated and until a case of that kind reaches this Court, and it reaches this Court in this case and in Georgia and it has not as for example in Wisconsin or Maine, the kinds of questions that we were discussing yesterday.

The Court obviously has no occasion to declare the unconstitutionality of the statute.

But that has been the consistent pattern of litigation and decision making in this Court.

Warren E. Burger:

Then it is the statute as applied that is the --

Norman C. Amaker:

Only in --

Warren E. Burger:

-- back in the complaint, isn't it?

Norman C. Amaker:

Only in a very narrow sense.

If what you're talking about is the matter in which the jury officials have used their discretion, which is what this --which is what the issue here is concerned with, then you're talking about -- then that's a different question from the way the District Court addressed the question.

They simply said that if we issue an injunction, which tells these jury officials that they are no longer to discriminate that that's sufficient.

What I say is that does not deal with the problem of discretion.

That does not deal with the capability for discrimination that the statute invites, and therefore the only way that you can deal with that is to deal with the source of the problem which is the statutory standards itself.

That's exactly what this Court did in some of the cases that we cited in our brief involving discrimination against blacks in voting.

That's what this Court has done in all the vagueness cases that have come before it.

This is by now no novel doctrine in this Court.

You know in challenging this case, therefore Alabama's jury selection statute, I stressed of the outset of firm belief that this longstanding problem of racial discrimination in jury selection will not be solved, unless the Court respond to this challenge by voiding to provisions of the statute involved here and requiring the use of fairly administered objective standards for determining what person shall be listed on the roles of perspective juries on the State.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

What would be your suggestion Mr. Amaker as to objective standards?