Lee v. Washington

RESPONDENT: Washington
LOCATION: United States District Court of Maryland

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 390 US 333 (1968)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 1967
DECIDED: Mar 11, 1968

Facts of the case


Media for Lee v. Washington

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 07, 1967 in Lee v. Washington

Earl Warren:

75, Frank Lee, Commissioner of Corrections of Alabama, et al., appellants versus Washington, et al.

Mr. Hare.

Nicholas S. Hare:

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

This case comes to you on direct appeal from a three-judge District Court and it involves alleged racial discrimination in prisons.

The plaintiffs below brought this action alleging racial discrimination in the Alabama prisons and state prisons in the Alabama jails.

And they alleged that the statutes requiring separation of the races were unconstitutional.

Now, I do not concede that those statutes are unconstitutional, but my argument before you gentlemen today is to show that even if you hold those statutes as unconstitutional, the case requires modification, the decree should be modified.

It's too rigid.

It destroys unnecessarily reasonable administrative discretion.

Now, the courts traditionally --

Hugo L. Black:

Mr. Hare, you say you do not concede that they are unconstitutional, do you contend that they are constitutional?

Nicholas S. Hare:

No, sir.

I make no contentions to that, but I'm not in a position to concede that that they are unconstitutional.

I take the position that if you gentlemen do declare them unconstitutional, the case should be revised or that portion of the case should be reversed which destroys reasonable discretion on the part of prison officials.

And of course, this case is one of overriding importance, much more important than just the State of Alabama.

This is – this was set the pattern for prison administration throughout the country.

Now, there are two aspects of this appeal.

One is procedural and I'll try to dispose of that first.

The appellant Frank Lee is the Commissioner of the State Prisons.

The appellant, Robert Austin is Warden of the City Jail of Birmingham.

Now, this was begun in Handle as the class action as to all of the jails in the state, and all of the jailers and the appellees when they brought this case, they alleged that Austin as the warden of the City Jail was a representative of that class of jailers and we say that that is not correct, that cannot be correct.

That a class action the necessary elements for class action are missing.

Alabama is a rural state.

We've got 67 counties and many small communities that have their jails, some of them just have one cell caboose.

This -- this order which is directed towards af – Afro appellant, Austin, seeks to bind without these people ever been in the court at all with ever -- without having any opportunity to show that peculiar and unusual circumstances in that particular jails, tries to bind all of the jailers in Alabama.

We say that this is not truly a representative class.

That the defendant there could not represent all of the others and did not, and they were not before the Court and this order should not be binding on them.

They ought to have that day in court.

It's just elemental justice.

It's -- is that due process.