McDonald v. Board of Election Comm'rs of Chicago

RESPONDENT: Board of Election Comm'rs of Chicago
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Mobile County

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 394 US 802 (1969)
ARGUED: Nov 19, 1968
DECIDED: Apr 28, 1969

Facts of the case


Media for McDonald v. Board of Election Comm'rs of Chicago

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 19, 1968 in McDonald v. Board of Election Comm'rs of Chicago

Earl Warren:

Number 68, Sam L. McDonald ET AL, appellants versus Board of Election Commissioners of Chicago ET AL.

Mr. Bass?

Stanley A. Bass:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is an appeal from an order of the three-judge Court in Chicago, dismissing a suit for declaratory judgment and injunction.

The suit was filed by two pre-trial detainees from Chicago, Cook County jail, on behalf of themselves and all of the persons similarly situated who are registered qualified voters but who are unable to get to the polls on election date because they are incarcerated, either without bail or because they lack the funds to post to monetary bail.

The suit sought a judgment declaring that the Illinois --

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

In other words these are not people who have been convicted of crime, is that it?

Stanley A. Bass:

That's correct.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

They're just awaiting trial?

Stanley A. Bass:


The suits sought a judgment declaring that the Illinois statutes applicable to absentee voting are unconstitutional and so far as they preclude the granting of absentee ballots to pre-trial detainees confined in the county of their residents.

A timely notice of appeal was filed from the judgement of the District Court.

The jurisdictional statement was filed in February.

In April, this Court grants a leave to proceed in 0139 and postponed the issue of jurisdiction until the hearing on the merits.

So, I will turn first to the issue of jurisdiction.

Under Section 1253 of Title 28, appeals lie directly to the Supreme Court from an order denying an injunction and a civil action which is required to be heard by a three-judge Court.

We therefore turn to Section 2281 of the judicial code which provides the three-judge district Court is required where an injunction is sought to restrain the enforcement, operation, or execution of a state statute by restraining the action of an officer of the state.

So there are three ingredients here.

First, that injunction must be sought, that was true in this case.

Second, that there is a state statute or general state wide application.

That's what we have in this case.

Third, that we have a state officer or pursuant to the decisions of this Court, a local officer functioning pursuant to a state wide policy performing a state function.

Now under Illinois law, as far as absentee ballots are concerned, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners has the same responsibility as the county clerk in another county or anybody else who was charged with the duty of furnishing absentee ballots.

Indeed, Section 19-2 of the election code which appears on page 15 of our brief states on the ninth line of the provision that the elector make application to the county clerk or were existing to the Board of Election Commissioners or other officer or officers charged with the duty of furnishing ballots for such election in his voting district.

So that the fact that the Board of Election Commissioners here are the defendants is not relevant because their function is a state wide function, they perform the same function with respect to absentee ballots as the officers in the other counties and localities.

Nor is this case moot at this time.

It is true that the two named representative plaintiffs are not in the Cook County jail awaiting trial.

Mr. Byrd was discharged a week after the election at his preliminary hearing and Mr. McDonald went to trial, it was a hang jury and he subsequently pleaded to a reduce charge of manslaughter which is a bailable offense.

However, since this is a class action and was found to be so by the trial court and I referred to page 30 of the record, where the three-judge Court says plaintiffs and the class they represent are.

The fact that this is a class action means that the fact that the named plaintiffs are not members of the class a more is not fatal as this Court indicated a month after the jurisdictional statement was filed to this case and the case was Lee versus Washington which involved the desegregation of the Alabama jails.