Castaneda v. Partida

LOCATION: Connecticut Welfare Department (Now Department of Social Services)

DOCKET NO.: 75-1552
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 430 US 482 (1977)
ARGUED: Nov 09, 1976
DECIDED: Mar 23, 1977

David G. Hall - for respondent
Thomas Parker Beery - for petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Castaneda v. Partida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 09, 1976 in Castaneda v. Partida

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 23, 1977 in Castaneda v. Partida

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in 75-1552, Castaneda against Partida will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

This case comes to us on certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

It concerns the “key man” system employed in the State of Texas for the selection of grand juries.

Jury commissioners are appointed by the State District Judge and then the judge proceeds to test their qualifications.

Among other things, the grand jurors must be of sound mind and good moral character and be literate, have no prior felony conviction and be under no pending indictment or other accusation.

The respondent, Mr. Partida, was convicted of a crime in a Texas State Court and he claimed discrimination in the selection of the grand jury that indicted him.

After he had exhausted his state remedies, he filed a habeas petition in the federal court based upon alleged gross under representation of Mexican-Americans in the county grand juries.

The federal court concluded that Partida indeed have made out a prima facie case of invidious discrimination.

It also concluded, however, that the case was a weak one as it described it and concluded that its doubts about the reliability of population and grand jury statistics, coupled with the thought that Mexican-Americans constituted a governing majority in the county, caused it further to determine that the prima facie case had been rebutted and the petition therefore was dismissed.

The Fifth Circuit reversed holding that the State had failed to rebut the prima facie case.

In an opinion filed today, we review at some length the statistical and other evidence that shows the county population to be 79% Mexican-American, or if one would exclude those under 25 and those who are illiterate as still 65% Mexican-American.

But at over an 11-year period, only 39% of those summoned for grand jury service were Mexican-American.

We conclude, that the proof offered by the respondent, did demonstrate a prima facie case and thus, we agree with both courts below and that the State, however, failed to rebut this by competent evidence.

All the State offered by way evidence was the testimony of the State District Judge dealing with the selection of the commissioners and the instructions he had given them.

The Court did not call the jury commissioners to testify.

Without evidence about the method by which the commissioners determine the qualifications for grand jurors, no inference explaining a significant disparity can be drawn from the statistics about the population as a whole.

We also hold that the District Court's so-called governing majority theory did not dispel the presumption of an intentional discrimination.

We do not resume, as a matter of law, that human beings of one definable group will not discriminate against other members of that group and we therefore affirm the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

I should point out that the Court is closely divided in this case.

Joining the opinion are Justices Brennan, White, Marshall and Stevens.

I am authorized to say that Mr. Justice Marshall, while joining the opinion of the Court, has filed a separate concurring opinion.

The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion joined by Mr. Justice Powell and Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

Mr. Justice Stewart has filed a short dissenting statement and Mr. Justice Powell joined by the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Rehnquist has also filed an opinion in dissent.

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

In every previous grand jury discrimination case reaching this Court, the situation has involved a governing majority in the community with the resulting power over the selection of grand juries by an Anglo-American electorate, an Anglo official.

In these prior cases, we have sustained claims of grand jury discrimination against politically powerless minorities where they were totally excluded from or limited only to a token participation on grand juries.

The facts of this case are all together different.

Here, we have a Mexican-American defendant, duly convicted by a petty jury, who claimed discrimination in the selection of the grand jury that indicted him, but the defendant was not a member of a minority group.

He was indicted and convicted in Hidalgo County, Texas, a community in which 79% of the population and a majority of their elected officials also are Mexican-American.

The key actors in this drama were not Anglos.

They were Mexican-Americans, the judge who appointed the jury commissioners and who later presided over the trial.