United States v. Alabama

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Dry Docks at Reed, WV

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 362 US 602 (1960)
ARGUED: May 02, 1960
DECIDED: May 16, 1960

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Alabama

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - May 02, 1960 in United States v. Alabama

Earl Warren:

Number 398 on the docket, United States, Petitioner, versus the State of Alabama et al.

Mr. Solicitor General.

J. Lee Rankin:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

On Friday of this last week, the United States filed with this Court, a memorandum describing action by the Congress that we think has a very important bearing on this case and removes some of the problems otherwise involved in the case before the Court.

I'd like very briefly to call your attention to that memorandum.

It refers to the action of the Congress in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1960.

That Act has not yet been signed by the President.

The United States believe that it will be within a short time.

When is the time of --

J. Lee Rankin:

I think it was up on the Fifth or I think by the Sixth, we will know about the action of the President.

And United States is willing to rely upon the assumption that it will be signed and that the Court should examine the case in the light of that action.

Now, that Civil Rights Act of 1960 is an amendment of the 1957 Act that was involved in this proceeding up to the time that we filed this memorandum and I think that it would govern the -- this proceeding hereafter.

As the Court will recall, it has held several times that since this in an -- an action for declaratory relief and injunctive relief, it is prospective in regard to the effect of it.

And therefore, there is no problem about what the law was at the time this case was before the lower court.

It is a question of what the law is at the time it is brought back and tried before that court.

And the court has also held that the mere fact that there are facts that have -- relating to acts that have occurred prior to the passage of the legislation does not make it retroactive.

The Reynolds case and Cox against Hart are both cases that bear upon that question.

So that the Court would properly, in examining this in the trial of this proceeding before the lower court, take into account assuming that this Act is passed, this amendment, the Civil Rights Act of 1960 would take as an amendment of the 1957 Act and try to determine what the law is with regard to the powers of the United States to bring such a proceeding in that condition.

Now, the 1960 act is very explicit in regard to the power of the United States Attorney General to bring such an action as this.

We have set it out on page 2 of our memorandum.

“The act or practice shall also be deemed that of the State and the State may be joined as a party defendant.

And if prior to the institution of such a proceeding, such official has resigned, or has been -- been relieved of his office and no successor has assumed such office, the proceeding may be instituted against the State.”

So, in this case, under the facts here, there would be two separate grounds for making the State a party, one, the absolute power to make the State a party and the other the power to make the State a party whenever the officer has resigned.

The parties, Rogers and Livingston, have both resigned in this case.

And so, it would come under both provisions of that portion of the amendment to the statute.

We do have one further aspect of the case and that is the fact that the lower court dismissed the action as to all parties.

And the United States made the Board of Registrars a party and also Rogers and Livingston, the two individuals, who were registrars and had resigned.

Though that question, we regard as a difficult question, we think the United States is right about it and we've developed it at length in our original brief, but we do not think the Court has to reach that question.

In light of the Civil Rights Act of 1960, assuming it is signed because we think that the Court should assume and the United States is willing to assume that with the State as a party, thus a state will comply with any final order that the Court enters in such a proceeding in regard to these most important rights of citizens to vote.

And therefore, we suggest that the Court need not reach the question of the individuals in this case and the effect of their resignations and that the Court can properly find that the State under the amended statute, would be a proper party and that the Court at -- would at the time the case is returned to have the power to take jurisdiction of a proceeding against the State.