United States v. Mississippi

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Mississippi
LOCATION: Louisiana General Assembly

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)

CITATION: 380 US 128 (1965)
ARGUED: Jan 26, 1965
DECIDED: Mar 08, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Mississippi

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

Earl Warren:

Number 73, United States, Appellant, versus Mississippi et al.

Mr. Solicitor General.

Archibald Cox:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This is a case brought by the United States to enjoin Mississippi officials from continuing to enforce certain provisions in the Mississippi constitutions and statutes which in their operation deprive otherwise qualified Negro citizens of the opportunity to vote without distinction of race or color.

A three-judge district court held by a divided vote that the complaint did not state a claim upon which relief could be granted against any of the defendants.

Its decision was based partly on procedural or jurisdictional grounds and partly on the merits.

The central issue on the appeal as we see it, is whether the defendants continued enforcement of the Mississippi voting laws attacked in the complaint is unconstitutional, because enforcement of the statutes operates to deprive Negroes of the right to vote without distinction of race or color in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment and in violation of Section 1971 of Title XLII of the United States Code.

We submit that the statutes are unconstitutional and that they are enforcement by the defendants that violates Section 1971 principally for two independent reasons.

First, we say that the principal statutes involved here which I will identify in a moment, delegate to petty officials, uncontrolled discretion to qualify or disqualify would be voters in a community in which every political force is mastered to preserve white political supremacy.

And that that discretion is discriminatorily exercised in accordance with the original intent of the statutes and the systematic practice for well over half a century to deny Negroes the equal opportunity to vote.

This aspect of our case, as we see it, is based upon Yick Wo against Hopkins and in very brief it asserts that the intended and actual operation of the state laws, condemns them exactly as if the racial discrimination were written into the words.

Second, we say that the Mississippi laws or the principal law is under attack, violate the Fifteenth Amendment because they establish new and sharply different requirements for voting.

After a long period in which white voters were permitted to register and Negro voters possessing the same qualifications were not so that the effect of the new and sharply different requirements is to perpetuate a form of discrimination and this we think violates the Fifteenth Amendment under the principle in Gwynn against the United States and Lane against Wilson.

What way the statutes come across?

Archibald Cox:

I am going to refer to that in just a moment.

I was stating the theories at this point.

I will elaborate them later so that the Court may have them in mind when I go through the complaint.

Because it is obvious from the mere statement of the theories that in part, they depend upon the actual facts.

The facts are those set forth in the complaint because of course, the motion to dismiss admits its allegations for the purposes of this proceeding.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

(Inaudible) interrogatory, has it anything to do with the motion to dismiss.

Archibald Cox:

I intend to refer to one or two incidents as illustrations of the kind of thing that we have alleged, as indications perhaps of the proof that we would expect to introduce in support of it.

It doesn't seem to me that there is any further need to rely on the interrogatories at this point.

We think the facts that we rely on are all sufficiently alleged in the complaint.

Arthur J. Goldberg:

But basically, these interrogatories are in the complaint in the motion to dismiss.

Archibald Cox:

That's correct.

As I say, I shall refer to one or two of the facts of the interrogatories to show that specific illustrations of the generalization that I take it I could do that even if they weren't in the interrogatories.

They would just be what we hope to prove.

Now, in going -- making my argument and in going through the complaint, I intend to emphasize the first claim just because there is too much here to argue in an hour.

The first claim is directed at Section 244 of the Mississippi Constitution.

And I think it really exemplifies the critical issues in the case, I'll tell not all of it.