Hunter v. Underwood

LOCATION: United States District Court House

DOCKET NO.: 84-76
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 471 US 222 (1985)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1985
DECIDED: Apr 16, 1985

James D. Ward - on behalf of the Appellants
James S. Ward - on behalf of the appellants -- rebuttal
Wilson Edward Still, Jr. - on behalf of the Appellees

Facts of the case


Media for Hunter v. Underwood

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1985 in Hunter v. Underwood

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments first this morning in Hunter against Underwood, et al.--

Mr. Ward, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

James S. Ward:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

In May of 1978, Carmen Edward, a Black female, was told that she could not register to vote because she had been convicted of the crime of issuing a worthless check which under state law is one involved moral turpitude.

That decision to refuse her her vote was based upon the Constitution of 1901 and Section 182 which allows the disfranchisement of voters for conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude.

That specific crime is not on the list.

The statutory offense for which she was committed, issuing a worthless check, did not become a statutory crime until 1971.

So, the justification for his disfranchisement would fit under the provision of the constitutional provision of 1901 which allows disfranchisement for those who commit any crime involving moral turpitude.

A month later in June of 1978, Mrs. Edwards, along with a while male, Mr. Underwood, filed a complaint in the District Court alleging that Section 182 violated various rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.

That complaint was later amended to include five causes of action.

Three of the causes of action were disposed of in pre-trial.

The case was tried on the cause of action that specific crimes had been added to Section 182 with the intent to disfranchise blacks and that the statute has had that effect presently.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Mr. Ward, do you know, does any other state than Alabama disinfranchise any category of non-felons?

James S. Ward:


Harry A. Blackmun:


James S. Ward:

Your Honor, I do not know.

There are non-felons disfranchised for commission of various election offenses which may or may not be a felony.

But, I am not aware of any specific state that allows blanketly at least that.

I am sure there are some states that allow disfranchisement for misdemeanors depending on how the statute is written.

If the state court would define a misdemeanor as being an infamous crime and the provision of law in that state allowed for that to happen, then I think, yes.

The District Court held that there was a failure on the part of the Appellees to show that 182 was passed with the intent to disfranchise blacks and also that even if that had been shown there was a permissible motive for Section 182 and, therefore, under Palmer and Michael M. the statute was allowed to stand.

On Appeal the court below ruled as a matter of law that intent to disfranchise blacks have been shown by the inclusion of the certain crimes, those crimes being misdemeanors and crimes involving moral turpitude and that the Appellants here have failed to prove that there was a permissible motive.

It is the Appellants' contention now before this Court that Section 182 must be viewed and analyzed as it exists now, not as it existed 84 years ago when it was passed.

Today the effect of Section 182 is as follows: The only crimes for which one can be disfranchised in our state are ones involving moral turpitude or which are a felony.

No one can be disfranchised for the conviction of a misdemeanor in and of itself.

It has to be a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude or a felony.

All crimes on the list which do not involve moral turpitude are no longer good crimes in our state.

By various court decisions or decision of this Court, they have been stricken.

So, you are dealing now with a statute which, as it presently works, includes within its proscriptions those who have been convicted of a felony or one convicted of a moral turpitude crime and makes no distinction as to whether it is a misdemeanor or not.

If the crime involves moral turpitude, that is the disfranchising fractor.