Louisiana v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Louisiana General Assembly

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 380 US 145 (1965)
ARGUED: Jan 26, 1965 / Jan 27, 1965
DECIDED: Mar 08, 1965

Facts of the case

The Attorney General on behalf of the United States sued Louisiana in a Louisiana federal district court alleging that the state had denied and would continue to deny African-Americans the right to vote. In 1898 Louisiana adopted a constitutional amendment that imposed burdensome requirements for voter registration, but which had a clause exempting those people registered to vote as of January 1, 1867 and the son or grandson of such people. African- Americans were not entitled to vote as of January 1, 1867. The district court agreed with the United States and held that Louisiana's requirements were unconstitutional.


Are the Louisiana constitution's voter registration requirements unconstitutional?

Media for Louisiana v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 26, 1965 in Louisiana v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 27, 1965 in Louisiana v. United States

Earl Warren:

Number 67, Louisiana et al., Appellants, versus United States.

Have you concluded your opening argument Mr. Kron?

Harry J. Kron:

Mr. Chief Justice, I understand now, I have only seven minutes left and I would like to reserve it for my final --

Earl Warren:

You -- you may.

Mr. Claiborne.

Louis F. Claiborne:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

After listening to Louisiana's Attorney General on yesterday, whose argument I must say was marked by commendable frankness.

I was prepared to submit my case with a very few words.

Unfortunately, I had a full evening to reconsider and doubtless influenced by any lawyers' reluctance to be cheated out of this argument, I found there is yet to a good deal to be said.

Nevertheless, I hope not to trespass on the Court's time and not to use my full allotted time.

As I understood Louisiana's argument yesterday, it was in effect this, assuming that serious discrimination against the Negro in his exercise of the franchise had been perpetrated in the past under the rule of the old interpretation test, Louisiana says that is behind us.

Louisiana has voluntarily abandoned that old discriminatory device and has now enacted a brand new, uniform, written, objective test which is unexceptional.

As to the past, they say, let us forgive and forget now that the State has began a fresh apparently in good faith using a model suggested by the Department of Justice itself.

Therefore, there is no occasion even to outlaw the old test.

It has been abandoned and that issue is moot says South Louisiana.

As to the new test, neither the court below nor the Government has challenged its constitutionality in this proceeding.

Accordingly, says the state, it's improper to enjoin its use and especially to enjoin its use only in 21 parishes thereby creating a disparity with the other 43 who are permitted to continue using it.

Now, there is a -- the suggestion that the injunction against the new citizenship test might be appropriate as a means of placing the Negro today on apparently with the white who is illegally registered in former times by saying let those Negroes who feel that they were discriminated against come in and challenge the illegally registered white voters.

In Louisiana, we have a very convenient, easy challenge procedure and they may simply look through the rolls and purge the white voters who are illegally registered without taking a test and the effects of that past discrimination where it might be raised.

Unfortunately, it's not as easy as all that.

Even if there were some basis who believing that Louisiana has turned over a new leaf and there are strong indications to the contrary as I will show.

The decree ended below in every respect was appropriate and necessary.

You cannot leave the interpretation test on the books, not in Louisiana.

The requirement that applicants be able to understand and interpret give a reasonable interpretation of any section of the Federal or State Constitution when read to him by the registrar is still part of the law of Louisiana.

It is still enshrined in the Constitution of Louisiana.

It is still implemented by statutes.

When the new test was enacted in 1962, the old was not repealed.

There is no conceivable room for argument that the new test, as a matter of state law, supplemented the old.

Even the Board of Registration whose discretion in this matter may be questioned has not explicitly directed registrars to stop using the old test and indeed, as was mentioned by one of the justices, “Yes it is.

The record shows that one of the registrars at least continued to use the old test after the Board's new rules and new test have been promulgated.”