United States v. Thomas

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Thomas
LOCATION: Approximately half-way between Santa Marta, Colombia and Miami. Florida (by water)

DOCKET NO.: 667
DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 362 US 58 (1960)
ARGUED: Feb 23, 1960 / Feb 24, 1960
DECIDED: Feb 29, 1960

Facts of the case

Question

Media for United States v. Thomas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 24, 1960 in United States v. Thomas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 23, 1960 in United States v. Thomas

J. Lee Rankin:

May it please the Court.

This is an action involving the right of 1377 Negroes to be restored to the registration rolls of Washington Parish in Louisiana.

It is distinguishable from Raines in that Raines involved the question of their being placed upon the registration rolls in the State of Georgia.

In this case, the District Judge, in his decree, held that the action involved massive discrimination against these Negro voters.

The various acts that were involved resulted from challenges under the statute of Louisiana.

The statute of Louisiana provides for challenges in a certain manner and that is set out in a Government's brief.

The challenges maybe made by persons, voters who will swear out affidavits in regard to the discrepancy in a form that is described in the statute and it's exhibit here in our brief, in which this discrepancies are raised.

Then the Registrar acts upon those affidavits which are to be sworn out before the Registrar or his deputy.

Charles E. Whittaker:

There's two affidavit as I understand (Inaudible) --

J. Lee Rankin:

At least two voters.

Charles E. Whittaker:

-- or not have been done by voters.

J. Lee Rankin:

That's right Mr. Justice Whittaker.

In this case, if the record is clear, it's submitted that no examination of any ward in regard to whether voters were in compliance with the requirements of the registration laws was made where there were no Negro voters in that ward.

There were only 10 white voters' registrations, who were challenged in any way in Washington Parish in connection with this matter.

The record is clear that the Registrar who deals with these records day by day and continuously over a long period of years that he described, knew that over 50% of the registrations' records of the white voters in this parish had exactly the same kind of discrepancies that were found to be sufficient under these challenges to remove these colored voters from the registration rolls of this parish.

There were 1514, colored voters registered in that parish before this action occurred.

By this action, 1377 of those 1514 were removed from the rolls.

There are over 11,000 white, 11,444 to be exact, on the registration rolls in this parish and only 10 of them were challenged.

Excuse me?

Under this state procedure does the mere submission of the affidavit result in removal or is some determination statement?

J. Lee Rankin:

The Registrar has to act but as a part of proceedings, it is shown at the Registrar here, Mr. Thomas, brought an action for declaratory judgment in which he said these people were harassing, interfering with the conduct of his office and that he wanted an adjudication as to whether or not he had to make these removals from the registration rolls and whether or not it would be a violation of the injunction outstanding against him from 1950 in which he was directed by a Federal District Court not to discriminate against any voters in the registration by reason of their race or color.

And in this proceeding, the state District Judge held that he -- his function was ministerial and that he had no discretion and that he was, as soon as the challenge was filed that he was to proceed to remove them from the rolls that was his duty.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Does that mean he must remove them from the rolls or does he have a discretion, after a challenge has been initiated by these two affidavits, send out a notice, then when the voter responds to make the determination for himself as to qualifications?

J. Lee Rankin:

Well yes, but if there was no response I think is a fair interpretation of the state judge's decision, then he had no discretion that it was his – then his duty.

Now, there is an affidavit provided for in the state law, state statutes, in which they can respond by getting three voters to swear on affidavit on their behalf.

This affidavit is a -- a limited form and it's provided that they are residents of the district in effect.

The Court held this affidavit in the form required by the Louisiana laws will be no answer to these particular discrepancies because the -- the Court said that they would have to swear out an affidavit in which they would say that these particular discrepancies did not appear or did not occur on the record.

Charles E. Whittaker:

Now do I understand, I mean to get this point clear in my mind, that it has been held by some court down there, that in the (Inaudible) of response by the voter, you have thus been challenged, you used the affidavits in the statutory laws, the Registrar has no discretion to overrule the challenge, but must remove the voter from the rolls.

J. Lee Rankin:

That's my understanding of the judgment of the state court, Mr. Justice Whittaker.

Charles E. Whittaker:

And one more question --