Civil Rights – Elections – Federal Injunction Against Racial Discrimination

In September 1958, in its first complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the United States sought to enjoin certain election registrars and deputy registrars in Terrell County, Georgia from continuing racially-discriminatory practices in their registration of voters. The defendants, claiming the 1957 statute to be unconstitutional, moved for dismissal. The district court granted defendants’ motion, rejecting government arguments that the subsection authorizing suit by the United States was limited to cases, like the case before the Court, of discrimination by the state. On direct appeal to the Supreme Court, held, reversed. Because the alleged racial discrimination by defendants occurred in the performance of their official state functions, they are subject to congressional power under the Fifteenth Amendment. The Court concluded that the defendants could not attack the statute on the ground that as applied to others it might be unconstitutional. United States v. Raines, 80 S.Ct. 519 (1960). In a second case under the 1957 act, the United States sought to annul the cancellation of the voting registrations of practically all Negro voters in Washington Parish, Louisiana, which had resulted from challenges made by members of a White Citizens Council for such irregularities as the inaccurate computation of the registrant’s age. In addition, an injunction was sought against future discrimination not only by the defendant registrar, who gave effect to the discriminatory challenges, but also by the White Citizens Council and its members. The district court, in granting the relief sought, found that all the defendants were engaged in supervising the state election process, and that therefore their discriminatory conduct constituted state action. On appeal by Thomas, the defendant registrar, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed the injunction of the district court as to him pending decision of his appeal. The United States then petitioned the Supreme Court for certiorari, and applied for an order staying the order of the court of appeals. Held, the district court’s judgment affirmed, as to defendant Thomas, in a per curiam opinion citing the Raines decision. United States v. Thomas, 80 S.Ct. 398 (1960).