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GILES v. TEASLEY

February 23, 1904

GILES
v.
TEASLEY, BOARD OF REGISTRARS OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY, ALABAMA

GILES
v.
TEASLEY



ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF ALABAMA

Fuller, Harlan, Brewer, Brown, White, Peckham, McKenna, Holmes, Day

Author: Day

[ 193 U.S. Page 160]

 MR. JUSTICE DAY, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The right to review in this court the judgment of a state court is regulated by section 709 of the Revised Statutes. The extent and nature of the remedy therein given has been the subject of numerous decisions. The jurisdiction in the cases now under consideration is invoked because of alleged denial of the rights of the plaintiff in error, secured to him by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States. When the jurisdiction depends, as in the present cases, upon a right, privilege or immunity under the Constitution of the United States specially set up and denied in the state court, certain propositions, it is said by Mr. Chief Justice Fuller, speaking for the court in Sayward v. Denny, 158 U.S. 180, 184, are well settled, among others, "The right on which the party relies must have been called to the attention of the court, in some proper way, and the decision of the court must have been against the right claimed. Hoyt v. Sheldon, 1 Black, 518; Maxwell v. Newhold, 18 How. 511, 515. Or, at all events, it must appear from the record, by clear and necessary intendment, that the Federal question was directly involved so that the state court could not have given judgment without deciding it." It is equally well settled that if the decision of a state court rests on an independent ground -- one which does not necessarily include a determination of the Federal right claimed -- or upon a ground broad enough to sustain it without deciding the Federal question raised, this court has no jurisdiction to review the judgment of the state court. New Orleans v. New Orleans Waterworks Co., 142 U.S. 79; Eustis v. Bolles, 150 U.S. 361; Dower v. Richards, 151 U.S. 658, 666; Wade v. Lawder, 165 U.S. 624, 628.

In every case which comes to this court on writ of error or appeal the question of jurisdiction must be first answered, whether propounded by counsel or not. Defiance Waterworks

[ 193 U.S. Page 161]

     and previous condition of servitude, without disfranchising a single white man in the State. These sections of the Alabama constitution were before this court in the case of Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475, and the general plan of voting and registration was summarized by Mr. Justice Holmes, delivering the opinion of the court as follows:

"By § 178 of article 8, to entitle a person, to vote he must have resided in the State at least two years, in the county one year and in the precinct or ward three months, immediately preceding the election, have paid his poll tax and have been duly registered as an elector. By § 182, idiots, insane persons and those convicted of certain crimes are disqualified. Subject to the foregoing, by § 180, before 1903 the following male citizens of the State, who are citizens of the United States, were entitled to register, viz: First. All who had served honorably in the enumerated wars of the United States, including those on either side in the 'war between the States.' Second. All lawful descendants of persons who served honorably in the enumerated wars or in the war of the Revolution. Third. 'All persons who are of good character and who understand the duties and obligations of citizenship under a republican form of government.' . . . By § 181, after January 1, 1903, only the following persons are entitled to register: First. Those who can read and write any article of the Constitution of the United States in the English language, and who either are physically unable to work or have been regularly engaged in some lawful business for the greater part of the last twelve months, and those who are unable to read and write solely because physically disabled. Second. Owners or husbands of owners of forty acres of land in the State, upon which they reside, and owners or husbands of owners of real or personal estate in the State assessed for taxation at three hundred dollars or more, if the taxes have been paid unless under contest. By § 183, only persons qualified as electors can take part in any method of party action. By § 184, persons not registered are disqualified from voting. By § 185, an elector whose vote is challenged shall be required to swear that the matter of the challenge is untrue before his vote shall be received. By § 186,

[ 193 U.S. Page 163]

     the legislature is to provide for registration after January 1, 1903, the qualifications and oath of the registrars are prescribed, the duties of registrars before that date are laid down, and an appeal is given to the county court and Supreme Court if registration is denied. There are further executive details in § 187, together with the above-mentioned continuance of the effect of registration before January 1, 1903. By § 188, after the last mentioned date applicants for registration may be examined under oath as to where they have lived for the last five years, the names by which they have been known, and the names of their employers."

It is apparent that paragraph 3 of section 180, permitting the registration of electors before 1903, of "all persons who are of good character and who understand the duties and obligations of citizenship under a republican form of government," opened a wide door to the exercise of discretionary power by the registrars. It is charged that this section, in connection with section 181, permitting the registration of certain persons after January, 1903, was intended to be so carried into operation and effect that the negroes of Alabama should be excluded from the elective franchise, and to permit the white men to register before January 1, 1903, and thus become electors, compelling the colored men to wait until after January 1, 1903, and then to apply under conditions which were especially framed and would have the effect to exclude the colored man from voting. It is charged that the registrars well knew the scheme and purpose set forth in the complaint to work the disfranchisement of negro voters and to qualify the white voters to exercise the elective franchise, and it is charged that the defendants were appointed by the State under sections of the state constitution adopted for the purpose of denying the colored man the right to vote and under which the defendants are undertaking to carry out the scheme and were so acting when they denied the right of the plaintiff to register, thus depriving him of the right guaranteed to him by the first section of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. A consideration of the allegations of this complaint, to which the demurrer was sustained,

[ 193 U.S. Page 164]

     makes apparent that the Federal right for which the plaintiff sought protection and the recovery of damages was that secured by the amendment to the Federal Constitution, which prohibits a State from denying to the citizen the right of suffrage because of race, color or previous condition of servitude. But in the present case the state court has not sustained the right of the State to thus abridge the constitutional rights of the plaintiff. It has planted its decision upon a ground independent of the alleged state action seeking to nullify the force and effect of the constitutional amendments protecting the right of suffrage. The first ground of sustaining the demurrer is, in effect, that, conceding the allegations of the petition to be true, and the registrars to have been appointed and qualified under a constitution which has for its purpose to prevent negroes from voting and to exclude them from registration for that purpose, no damage has been suffered by the plaintiff, because no refusal to register by a board thus constituted in defiance of the Federal Constitution could have the effect to disqualify a legal voter, otherwise entitled to exercise the elective franchise. In such a decision no right, immunity or privilege, the creation of Federal authority, has been set up by the plaintiff in error and denied in such wise as to give this court the right to review the state court decision. This view renders it unnecessary to consider whether, where a proper case was made for the denial of the right of suffrage, it ...


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