Swafford v. Templeton
185 U.S. 487 (1902)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Swafford v. Templeton, 185 U.S. 487 (1902)

Swafford v. Templeton

No. 487

Submitted April 14, 1902

Decided May 19, 1902

185 U.S. 487

Syllabus

The court below erred in dismissing this action for want of jurisdiction, as the right which it was claimed had been unlawfully invaded was one arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and although it has been held that, on error from a state court to this Court, where the federal question asserted to be contained in the record is manifestly lacking all color of merit, the writ of error should be dismissed, that doctrine relates to questions arising on writs of error from state courts, where, aside from the federal status of the parties to the action or the inherent nature of the federal right which is sought to be vindicated, jurisdiction is to be determined by ascertaining whether the record raises a bona fide federal question.

Page 185 U. S. 488

This action was begun by Swafford, plaintiff in error, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the Southern Division of the Eastern District of Tennessee. Templeton and Pearcy, defendants in error, were made defendants to the action, the object of which was to recover damages for an asserted wrongful refusal by the defendants to permit the plaintiff to vote at a national election for a member of the House of Representatives, held on November 6, 1900, in the district of the residence of the plaintiff.

The declaration expressly charged that the plaintiff was a white man, a natural-born citizen of the United States, and was such on November 6, 1900, and had been for many years prior thereto a resident and duly qualified voter in the County of Rhea, State of Tennessee, and, as such, entitled, under the Constitution and laws of the United States and of the state, to vote for members of Congress, and that he had been illegally deprived of such right by the defendants, when serving as election officers at an election held on November 6, 1900, in the district of the residence of the plaintiff, in said County of Rhea.

The declaration specified the manner in which the right which it was asserted existed under the Constitution and laws of the United States and of the state had been violated, as follows: that for a number of years there had been in force in Tennessee certain special registration and ballot laws, which were operative only in counties containing a population of fifty thousand inhabitants or over, and in cities, towns, and civil districts having a population of twenty-five hundred inhabitants or over; that Rhea County was not, prior to 1899, affected by the legislation in question, because it did not have a population of fifty thousand or upwards, and had no town, city, or civil district within its borders containing a population of twenty-five hundred; that, not being subject to the operation of the statutes in question, the elections in Rhea County, as in other counties similarly situated, were governed by, and conducted in accordance with, the general election laws prevailing in the State of Tennessee; that in 1899, the Legislature of Tennessee passed a law known as chapter 163 of 1899, by which the civil

Page 185 U. S. 489

districts or subdivisions theretofore existing in Rhea County were diminished in number, and so arranged as to cause the civil district in which the plaintiff lived and was entitled to vote to contain a population of over twenty-five hundred inhabitants, and therefore to become subject to the aforesaid special registration and election laws if the redistricting law in question was valid. It was further averred that, at the election held on November 6, 1900, for a member of Congress, the defendants, who were a majority of the election judges conducting such election, when the complainant presented himself to vote, insisted that he mark his ballot, and fold it in a particular way without assistance, as required by the special ballot law. It was asserted that this demand by the election officers was lawful if the special ballot law applied to the conduct of the election, but was unlawful if the election in Rhea County was not subject to such special law, and was controlled by the general election law of the state. Averring that he was an illiterate person, and unable to mark or fold his ballot unassisted, and was therefore not able to comply with the provisions of the special ballot law referred to, it was alleged that the vote of plaintiff was rejected by the defendants, despite the insistence of the plaintiff that the election ought legally to have been conducted according to the requirements of the general law, and not by those of the special law, for the reason that the redistricting act of 1899 was absolutely void.

The grounds upon which it was alleged that the act of 1899 redistricting Rhea County was void may be thus summarized: because it was "class legislation in violation of the federal Constitution," it being asserted that said law was enacted for partisan purposes, and that, although there were other counties in the state similarly situated as was Rhea County, the civil districts as laid out by the county courts in such other counties, pursuant to statutory authority, were left undisturbed by the legislature. In other particulars also, the act in question was averred to constitute special or class legislation. It was specially averred that, as prior to the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, plaintiff enjoyed

Page 185 U. S. 490

the elective franchise, by virtue of that amendment and of enumerated provisions of the state constitution

"plaintiff became, and was, possessed of the right of suffrage as an immunity or privilege of citizenship, of which he could not be deprived by the enactment of chapter 163 (the law of 1899) under the circumstances aforesaid."

The defendants filed a demurrer questioning the sufficiency of the declaration upon various grounds.

After hearing upon the demurrer, the court filed an opinion in which it said that it clearly appeared from the declaration that the action did not really and substantially involve a federal question, and that the court was without jurisdiction or power to entertain the suit. 108 F. 309. An entry was made sustaining the demurrer and dismissing the suit, and it was recited that the dismissal was solely because of the want of jurisdiction. A certificate of the judge, moreover, was filed, which is as follows:

"In this cause, I hereby certify that the order of dismissal herein made is based solely on the ground that no federal question was involved, and that the declaration, in my opinion, disclosed the infraction of no right arising under or out of the federal laws or Constitution, and that treating the demurrer as presenting this question of jurisdiction, and acting also independently of the demurrer, and on the court's own motion, the suit is dismissed only for the reasons above stated -- that is, that the controversy not arising under the laws and Constitution of the United States, there is consequently no jurisdiction of the circuit court of the United States."

"This certificate is made conformably to act of Congress of March 3, 1891, chapter 517, and the opinion filed herein April 30, 1901, is made a part of the record, and will be certified and sent up as a part of the proceedings, together with the certificate. "

Page 185 U. S. 491

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