United States v. Raines
362 U.S. 17 (1960)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Raines, 362 U.S. 17 (1960)

United States v. Raines

No. 64

Argued January 12, 1960

Decided February 29, 1960

362 U.S. 17

Syllabus

Under authority of R.S. § 2004, as amended by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the Attorney General brought this civil action on behalf of the United States in a Federal District Court to enjoin certain public officials of the State of Georgia from discriminating against Negro citizens who desired to register to vote in elections in Georgia. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that subsection (c), which authorizes the Attorney General to bring such an action, is unconstitutional. Although the complaint involved only official actions, the Court construed subsection (c) as authorizing suits to enjoin purely private actions, and held that this went beyond the permissible scope of the Fifteenth Amendment, and that the Act must be considered unconstitutional in all its applications. On direct appeal to this Court, held: the judgment is reversed. Pp. 362 U. S. 19-28.

1. The case is properly here on direct appeal under 28 U.S. C. §1252, since the basis of the decision below was that the Act of Congress was unconstitutional, no matter what the contentions of the parties might be as to what its proper basis should have been. P. 362 U. S. 20.

2. The District Court erred in dismissing the complaint on the theory that the Act would exceed the permissible limits of the Fifteenth Amendment if applied to purely private actions by private persons, since that question was not properly before that Court on the record in this case. Pp. 362 U. S. 20-24.

(a) One to whom application of a statute is constitutional will not be heard to attack it on the ground that it might also be taken as applying to other persons or other situations in which its application might be unconstitutional. P. 362 U. S. 21.

(b) The delicate power of pronouncing an Act of Congress unconstitutional is not to be exercised with reference to hypothetical cases. P. 362 U. S. 22.

(c) In this case, there are no countervailing considerations sufficient to warrant the District Court's action in considering the

Page 362 U. S. 18

constitutionality of this Act in applications not presented by the facts before it. Pp. 362 U. S. 22-24.

(d) To the extent that United States v. Reese,92 U. S. 214, depended on an approach inconsistent with what this Court considers the better one and the one established by the weightiest of the subsequent cases, it cannot be followed here. P. 362 U. S. 24.

3. Insofar as it authorizes the Attorney General to bring this action to enjoin racial discrimination by public officials in the performance of their official duties pertaining to elections, the Act is clearly constitutional. Pp. 362 U. S. 24-28.

(a) Whatever precisely may be the reach of the Fifteenth Amendment, the conduct charged here -- discrimination by state officials, within the course of their official duties, against the voting rights of citizens, on grounds of race or color -- is certainly subject to the ban of that Amendment, and legislation designed to deal with such discrimination is "appropriate legislation" under it. P. 362 U. S. 25.

(b) It cannot be said that appellees' action was not "state action" merely because the aggrieved parties had not exhausted their administrative or other remedies under state law, since Congress has power to provide for the correction of the constitutional violations of every state official, high and low, without regard to the presence of other authority in the State that might possibly revise their actions. P. 362 U. S. 25.

(c) Insofar as Barney v. New York,193 U. S. 430, points to a different conclusion, its authority has been so restricted by later decisions that it might be regarded as having been worn away by the erosion of time and of contrary authority. Pp. 362 U. S. 25-26.

(d) It is not beyond the power of Congress to authorize the United States to bring this action to vindicate the public interest in the due observance of private constitutional rights. P. 362 U. S. 27.

172 F. Supp. 552, reversed.

Page 362 U. S. 19

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