Dunn v. Blumstein

LOCATION: Tennessee Governor's Office

DOCKET NO.: 70-13
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 405 US 330 (1972)
ARGUED: Nov 16, 1971
DECIDED: Mar 21, 1972

James F. Blumstein - pro se
Robert H. Roberts - for appellants

Facts of the case

A Tennessee law required a one-year residence in the state and a three-month residence in the county as a precondition for voting. James Blumstein, a university professor who had recently moved to Tennessee, challenged the law by filing suit against Governor Winfield Dunn and other local officials in federal district court.


Did Tennessee's durational residency requirements violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Dunn v. Blumstein

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 16, 1971 in Dunn v. Blumstein

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Dunn against Blumstein.

Mr. Roberts you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Robert H. Roberts:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is an appeal from a Three-Judge District Court of the Middle District of Tennessee and I suppose to struck down the durational residency requirements for voting as provided by the State Constitution and implemented by statues of the legislature.

The time fixed in Tennessee for durational residency requirements was one year in the State and three months in the County for the person offers himself to vote.

The question presented is whether or not such constitutional and statutory provisions violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and whether or not in determining this, the doctrine of irrational or unreasonable or the compelling state interest doctrine is to be made applicable in this kind of a case in part of determination of this case.

At the time, this case was decided by the District Court and so far as this counsel has any way of ascertaining now, 33 states and three territories had the durational residence requirements of at least the one year as the case in Tennessee; 15 states had a six-month residency requirement which is double to the county residence requirement provided for in the State of Tennessee.

The remaining two states had respectfully 190 days and the other three months the residency requirement.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Roberts, have there been any studies made on a widespread or even a national basis to determine how long it takes to pack up registration and that sort of thing to check out to be sure that the voters are voting in two states.

Robert H. Roberts:

No sir, not to my knowledge, if Your Honor please, that is where we think that the District Court erred in trying to make such a determination based on the registration cutoff deadline of 30 days, which implies in Tennessee and in most of the states that have registration laws, but, it is our insistence that the Court was in error there because that cutoff period is designed specifically and it is very clearly shown in the law to be for the purpose of permitting the county election officials, the necessary time to make the administrative acts that they are required to do.

For example, they have to take your master registration list and break that down precinct by precinct and make duplicates of it throughout to the precinct.

They got to run their advertisements and the paper notices of the election, select all of the judges and officers to hold the election at the precinct level and it is countless number of things.

No word during that period of time can be Election Commission in Tennessee and I think it is generally true at everywhere else use that period of time to purge an ineligible voter.

Therefore the durational residency requirement is necessary, we feel, in order to give some time for which the Election Commission can get rid of any ineligible voters, purge them as the case might be, and then, the 30-day registration cutoff only for administrative period and things alone, because somewhere there has got to be a period of time when the voter knows that he is going to be entitled to go to the booth and vote and that is what we think the 30 days is for.

Now, as far as --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

What is been the experience with those administrative problems in connection with the federal statute, the election, presidential and other federal elections.

Robert H. Roberts:

Of course -- we of course we have not had a presidential election since then.

We do not yet how it is going to work out.

I do not think that there would --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

I think that is 30 days, is it not?

Robert H. Roberts:


William J. Brennan, Jr.:

30 days residence?

Robert H. Roberts:

Yes sir.

30-day registration cutoff.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But I gather to kind of cease that you have to accommodate itself for the forthcoming presidential election.

Robert H. Roberts:

Yes sir.

Well, Tennessee, if Your Honor please, already had done this before the 1970 Voting Rights Act was passed.

That is one of the things that I wanted to point out to Court.

There are other ways of doing it besides in effect reinterpreting the Fourteenth Amendment in order to bring it about.

In Tennessee, anybody that moves within a precinct or anywhere else in the state has 90 days in which to qualify himself in the new area or until that period of time, he can go back and vote where he had always voted either in person or by absentee ballot.