Richardson v. RamirezAnnotate this Case
418 U.S. 24 (1974)
U.S. Supreme Court
Richardson v. Ramirez, 418 U.S. 24 (1974)
Richardson v. Ramirez
Argued January 15, 1974
Decided June 24, 1974
418 U.S. 24
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA
After the three individual respondents, who had been convicted of felonies and had completed their sentences and paroles, were refused registration to vote in three different California counties respectively because of their felony convictions, they brought a class petition, on behalf of themselves and all other ex-felons similarly situated, for a writ of mandate in the California Supreme Court, naming as defendants the Secretary of State and the three county election officials who had denied them registration "individually and as representatives of the class of all other" county election officials in the State, and challenging the constitutionality of respondents' disenfranchisement on the ground, inter alia, that provisions of the California Constitution and the implementing statutes that disenfranchised ex-felons denied them equal protection. The three county officials named as defendants decided not to contest the action, and told the court they would henceforth register to vote ex-felons, including respondents, whose sentences and paroles had expired. Prior to the return date of the writ, the court added to the named defendants (instead of allowing her to intervene) another county election official (petitioner here) who was the defendant in a similar action by an ex-felon pending in the State Court of Appeal. After holding that the three first-named county officials' acquiescence did not render the case moot, the California Supreme Court went on to hold that the constitutional and statutory provisions in question, as applied to ex-felons whose sentences and paroles had expired, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, but did not issue the peremptory writ.
1. In view of its unusual procedural history in the Supreme Court of California, the case is not moot. Pp. 418 U. S. 34-40.
(a) The State Supreme Court's action in adding petitioner as a named defendant after the other named county officials decided not to contest the action, and at a time when the Secretary of
State (who did not join in the petition to this Court) was still a party defendant who had answered the complaint, indicates that the court considered the suit to be not only on behalf of the three named plaintiffs, but also on behalf of all ex-felons in California similarly situated, and also that the court regarded petitioner's opponent in the Court of Appeal suit, both as an unnamed member of the class of ex-felons referred to in the complaint and as one of a class actually seeking to register in petitioner's county, as a party to the Supreme Court action. Pp. 418 U. S. 38-40.
(b) Being rendered in a class action in which relief in the nature of declaratory relief was granted, the decision below is not only binding on petitioner, and thus dispositive of her other suit, but also decides the federal constitutional question presented for the unnamed members of the classes represented below by petitioner and respondents, whose continuing controversy in the State Supreme Court still continues in this Court. Brockington v. Rhodes,396 U. S. 41, distinguished. P. 418 U. S. 40.
2. California, in disenfranchising convicted felons who have completed their sentences and paroles, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 418 U. S. 41-56.
(a) The understanding of the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, as reflected in the express language of § 2 of the Amendment, which exempts from the sanction of reduced congressional representation resulting from the denial of citizens' right to vote the denial of such right for "participation in rebellion, or other crime," and in the historical and judicial interpretation of the Amendment's applicability to state laws disenfranchising felons, is of controlling significance in distinguishing such laws from those other state limitations on the franchise that this Court has held invalid under the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 418 U. S. 54-55.
(b) Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which contains the Equal Protection Clause, in dealing with voting rights as it does, could not have been meant to bar outright a form of disenfranchisement that was expressly exempted from the less drastic sanction of reduced representation that § 2 imposed for other forms of disenfranchisement. P. 418 U. S. 55.
(c) Even if § 2 was made part of the Amendment "largely through the accident of political exigency, rather than for the relation which it bore to the other sections of Amendment,'" as respondents contend, this does not preclude looking to it for guidance in interpreting § 1, since § 2 is as much a part of the Amendment
as any of the other sections, and how it became part of the Amendment is less important than what it says and what it means. P. 418 U. S. 55.
9 Cal.3d 199, 507 P.2d 1345, reversed and remanded.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 418 U. S. 86. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined and in Part I-A of which DOUGLAS, J., joined, post, p. 418 U. S. 56.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
The three individual respondents in this case were convicted of felonies and have completed the service of their respective sentences and paroles. They filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the Supreme Court of California to compel California county election officials to register them as voters. [Footnote 1] They claimed, on behalf of
themselves and others similarly situated, that application to them of the provisions of the California Constitution and implementing statutes which disenfranchised persons convicted of an "infamous crime" denied them the right to equal protection of the laws under the Federal Constitution. The Supreme Court of California held that,
"as applied to all ex-felons whose terms of incarceration and parole have expired, the provisions of article II and article XX, section 11, of the California Constitution denying the right of suffrage to persons convicted of crime, together with the several sections of the Elections Code implementing that disqualification . . . , violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
Ramirez v. Brown, 9 Cal.3d 199, 216-217, 507 P.2d 1345, 1357 (1973). We granted certiorari, 414 U.S. 816 (1973).
Article XX, § 11, of the California Constitution has provided since its adoption in 1879 that "[l]aws shall be made" to exclude from voting persons convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, malfeasance in office, "or other high crimes." At the time respondents were refused registration, former Art. II, § 1, of the California Constitution provided in part that
"no alien ineligible to citizenship, no idiot, no insane person, no person conflicted of any infamous crime, no person hereafter convicted of the embezzlement or misappropriation of public money, and no person who shall not be able to read the Constitution in the English language and write his or her name, shall ever exercise the privileges of an elector
in this State. [Footnote 2]"
Sections 310 and 321 of the California Elections Code provide that an affidavit of registration shall show whether the affiant has been convicted of "a felony which disqualifies [him] from voting." [Footnote 3] Sections 383, 389, and 390 direct the county clerk to cancel the registration of all voters who have been convicted of "any infamous crime or of the embezzlement or misappropriation of any public money." [Footnote 4] Sections 14240 and
14246 permit a voter's qualifications to be challenged on the ground that he has been convicted of "a felony" or of "the embezzlement or misappropriation of public money." [Footnote 5] California provides by statute for restoration of the right to vote to persons convicted of crime either
by court order after the completion of probation, [Footnote 6] or, if a prison term was served, by executive pardon after completion of rehabilitation proceedings. [Footnote 7] California also provides a procedure by which a person refused
registration may obtain judicial review of his disqualification. [Footnote 8]
Each of the individual respondents was convicted of one or more felonies, and served some time in jail or prison followed by a successfully terminated parole. Respondent Ramirez was convicted in Texas; respondents Lee and Gill were convicted in California. When Ramirez applied to register to vote in San Luis Obispo County, the County Clerk refused to allow him to register. The Monterey County Clerk refused registration to respondent Lee, and the Stanislaus County Registrar of
Voters (hereafter also included in references to clerks) refused registration to respondent Gill. All three respondents were refused registration because of their felony convictions. [Footnote 9]
In May, 1972, respondents filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the Supreme Court of California, invoking its original jurisdiction. [Footnote 10] They named as defendants [Footnote 11] below the three election officials of San Luis Obispo,
Monterey, and Stanislaus Counties who had refused to allow them to register,
"individually and as representatives of the class of all other County Clerks and Registrars of Voters who have the duty of determining for their respective counties whether any ex-felon will be denied the right to vote."
The petition for a writ of mandate challenged the constitutionality of respondents' exclusion from the voting rolls on two grounds. First, it was contended that California's denial of the franchise to the class of ex-felons could no longer withstand scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Relying on the Court's recent voting-rights cases, respondents argued that a compelling state interest must be found to justify exclusion of a class from the franchise, and that California could assert no such interest with respect to ex-felons. Second, respondents contended that application of the challenged California constitutional and statutory provisions by election officials of the State's 58 counties was so lacking in uniformity as to deny them due process and "geographical . . . equal protection." They appended a report by respondent California Secretary of State, and the questionnaires returned by county election officials on which it was based. The report concluded that there was wide variation in the county election officials' interpretation of the challenged voting exclusions. [Footnote 12] The Supreme
Court of California upheld the first contention, and therefore did not reach the second one.
Before reaching respondents' constitutional challenge, the Supreme Court of California considered whether a decision reached by the three county clerks not to contest the action, together with their representation to the court that they would henceforth permit all ex-felons whose terms of incarceration and parole had expired to register and vote, rendered this case moot. That court decided that it did not. The acquiescence of the three officials was in no way binding on election officials of the other 55 California counties in which respondents might choose to reside, and it was undisputed that there were many ex-felons among the residents of those counties who had been or would be refused registration on the ground challenged. Because the case posed a question of broad public interest, which was likely to recur and which should receive a state-wide resolution, the court exercised its
"inherent discretion to resolve the issue 'even though an event occurring during its pendency would normally render the matter moot.' . . . This rule is particularly applicable to challenges to the validity of election laws."
As a practical matter, there can be no doubt that there is a spirited dispute between the parties in this Court as to the constitutionality of the California provisions disenfranchising ex-felons. Even though the Supreme Court of California did not, in fact, issue a permanent writ of mandate, and therefore its judgment is in effect a declaratory judgment, an action for such relief may stem from a controversy that is "definite and concrete, touching the legal relations of parties having adverse legal interests." Aetna Life Insurance Co. v. Haworth,300 U. S. 227, 300 U. S. 240-241 (1937). By reason of the special relationship of the public officials in a State to the court of last resort of that State, the decision of the Supreme Court of California, if left standing, leaves them permanently bound by its conclusion on a matter of federal constitutional law. Cf. North Dakota Pharmacy Bd. v. Snyder's Stores,414 U. S. 156 (1973).
This case, in some respects, presents stronger arguments for concluding that a live case or controversy remains than in other election cases in which we have addressed the question of mootness. Unlike Moore v. Ogilvie,394 U. S. 814 (1969), in which the particular candidacy was not apt to be revived in a future election, or Hall v. Beals,396 U. S. 45 (1969), in which the voters who had been disenfranchised because of a residence requirement would not have suffered the same fate under the amended statute, respondents here are indefinitely disenfranchised by the provisions of California law which they challenge. While the situation in Moore v. Ogilvie, supra, was described as "capable of repetition, yet evading review,'" 394 U.S. at 394 U. S. 816, that involved here can best be described, in view of the Supreme Court of California's decision against the state officials and their obligation to follow the law as laid down by that court, as "incapable of repetition," and therefore evading review. There are thus the strongest sorts of practical arguments, as well as the language
of Moore v. Ogilvie, supra, which militate against a conclusion of mootness in this case.
But purely practical considerations have never been thought to be controlling by themselves on the issue of mootness in this Court. While the Supreme Court of California may choose to adjudicate a controversy simply because of its public importance and the desirability of a state-wide decision, we are limited by the case or controversy requirement of Art. III to adjudication of actual disputes between adverse parties.
The mootness problem here arises because, as it noted, the Supreme Court of California was assured by the three county clerks who were named as defendants that the three named plaintiffs would be allowed to register and vote. The three named plaintiffs resided respectively in the California counties of San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Stanislaus, and the county clerks of those counties who were named as defendants neither defended the action in the Supreme Court of California nor sought review here. Petitioner here is the County Clerk of Mendocino County, who though of course bound by the judgment of the Supreme Court of California, since she was made a party to that action, has no concrete dispute with voters who reside in other counties. Thus, if the case were limited to the named parties alone, it could be persuasively argued that there was no present dispute on the issue of the right to register between the three named individual respondents in this Court and the one named petitioner here.
We think, however, that the unusual procedural history of the case in the Supreme Court of California leads to the conclusion that the litigation before us is not moot. The individual named plaintiffs brought their action in the Supreme Court of California on behalf of themselves and all other ex-felons similarly situated, and not simply
those ex-felons residing in the counties in which the named plaintiffs resided. While only the county clerks of Stanislaus, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo were named parties defendant, they were designated in the original complaint filed in the Supreme Court of California "as representatives of the class of all other County Clerks." The California Secretary of State was likewise named a party defendant. On the basis of this complaint, the Supreme Court of California issued an alternative writ of mandate directed to the three named county clerks "individually and as representatives of the class of all other County Clerks and Registrars of Voters," directing them to register to vote not simply the three named plaintiffs, but
"all ex-felons whose term of incarceration and parole have expired and who upon application demonstrate that they are otherwise fully qualified to vote,"
or, in the alternative, to show cause why they had not done so upon the return date of the writ. Thus, while the Supreme Court of California did not in so many words say that it was permitting respondents to proceed by way of a "class action," the fact that the court's process recited that the named clerks were subject to it "individually and as representatives of the class of all other County Clerks and Registrars of Voters," and the fact that the beneficiaries of that process were not merely the named plaintiffs but "all ex-felons whose term of incarceration and parole [had] expired . . ." indicates that the court treated the action as one brought for the benefit of the class described in the petition for the writ of mandate.
Petitioner Viola Richardson, the County Clerk of Mendocino County, filed a complaint in intervention in the action in the Supreme Court of California, alleging that the suit as framed by the named plaintiffs was collusive, in that neither the three named county clerks nor the Secretary of State could be expected to contest the claims
of plaintiffs. Petitioner Viola Richardson further alleged in her complaint of intervention that she was a party to a lawsuit brought against her by an ex-felon (also named Richardson) who had sought to register in Mendocino County, had been denied the right, and whose suit seeking to establish the right was then pending in the State Court of Appeal.
The county clerks actually named as defendants in the mandate action each obeyed the alternative writ issued by the Supreme Court of California, and did not contest the named plaintiffs' legal claim that they had a right to vote secured by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which overrode the contrary provisions of the California Constitution. The Secretary of State appeared in the action and generally denied the named plaintiffs' essential claims.
The Supreme Court of California, prior to the return date of the writ, issued an order denying petitioner Richardson's motion to intervene, but instead ordered her added to the named defendants in the action along with the three other named county clerks and the Secretary of State. This action in the Supreme Court of California, coming as it did after the acquiescence of the named clerks in the counties in which the named plaintiffs resided, and yet at a time when the Secretary of State was still a party defendant who had answered the complaint, clearly indicates to us that that court considered the action to be not only on behalf of the three named plaintiffs, but also on behalf of all ex-felons in California similarly situated. We are reinforced in this conclusion by the language quoted above from the alternative writ of mandate issued by the Supreme Court of California. Had the Supreme Court of California based its action on petitioner Richardson's claim that the suit was collusive, and that it might become a binding precedent in
her litigation then pending in the State Court of Appeal, it would seem to have been sufficient to grant the motion to intervene. But the court's action adding petitioner Richardson as a named defendant would appear to have been based on its conclusion that at least some members of the class represented by the plaintiffs in fact resided in Mendocino County, and were there seeking to exercise their right to vote. In reaching such a conclusion, of course, the Supreme Court of California had before it petitioner Richardson's allegation that at least her opponent in the litigation pending in the Court of Appeal was not merely seeking to register to vote in Mendocino County, but had brought a lawsuit to enforce his claim.
At the time petitioner Richardson was added as a party defendant, the three named plaintiffs had obtained the relief which they sought, whereas the remaining members of the class, including petitioner Richardson's opponent in the Court of Appeal litigation, had not. We have held that, in the federal system, one may not represent a class of which he is not a part, Bailey v. Patterson,369 U. S. 31, 369 U. S. 32-33 (1962), and, if this action had arisen in the federal courts, there would be serious doubt as to whether it could have proceeded as a class action on behalf of the class of ex-felons denied the right to register after the three named plaintiffs had been granted that right. Indiana Employment Security Div. v. Burney,409 U. S. 540 (1973). But California is at liberty to prescribe its own rules for class actions, subject only to whether limits may be imposed by the United States Constitution, and we interpret its action in adding petitioner Richardson as a defendant to mean that it regarded her opponent in the Court of Appeal litigation both as an unnamed member of the class of ex-felons referred to in the mandate complaint and as one of a class actually seeking to register in Mendocino County,
as a party to the action in the Supreme Court of California, albeit an unnamed one.
In Brockington v. Rhodes,396 U. S. 41 (1969), we emphasized in finding the case moot that appellant's "suit did not purport to be a class action, and he sought no declaratory relief." Id. at 306 U. S. 42. We said:
"[I]n view of the limited nature of the relief sought, we think the case is moot because the congressional election is over. The appellant did not allege that he intended to run for office in any future election. He did not attempt to maintain a class action on behalf of himself and other putative independent candidates, present or future. He did not sue for himself and others similarly situated as independent voters, as he might have under Ohio law. . . . He did not seek a declaratory judgment, although that avenue too was open to him. . . ."
Id. at 396 U. S. 43. Here, unlike Brockington, there was a class action, and relief in the nature of declaratory relief was granted. The decision below is not only binding on petitioner Richardson, and thus dispositive of her other Court of Appeal litigation, but also decides the federal constitutional question presented for the unnamed members of the classes represented below by petitioner and respondents, whose continuing controversy led the Supreme Court of California to conclude that this case was not moot.
The briefs of the parties before us indicate that the adverse alignment in the Supreme Court of California continues in this Court, and we therefore hold the case is not moot. [Footnote 13]
Unlike most claims under the Equal Protection Clause, for the decision of which we have only the language of the Clause itself as it is embodied in the Fourteenth
Amendment, respondents' claim implicates not merely the language of the Equal Protection Clause of § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, but also the provisions of the less familiar § 2 of the Amendment:
"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number
of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State."
Petitioner contends that the italicized language of § 2 expressly exempts from the sanction of that section disenfranchisement grounded on prior conviction of a felony. She goes on to argue that those who framed and adopted the Fourteenth Amendment could not have intended to prohibit outright in § 1 of that Amendment that which was expressly exempted from the lesser sanction of reduced representation imposed by § 2 of the Amendment. This argument seems to us a persuasive one unless it can be shown that the language of § 2, "except for participation in rebellion, or other crime," was intended to have a different meaning than would appear from its face.
The problem of interpreting the "intention" of a constitutional provision is, as countless cases of this Court recognize, a difficult one. Not only are there deliberations of congressional committees and floor debates in the House and Senate, but an amendment must thereafter be ratified by the necessary number of States. The legislative history bearing on the meaning of the relevant language of § 2 is scant indeed; the framers of the Amendment were primarily concerned with the effect of reduced representation upon the States, rather than with the two forms of disenfranchisement which were exempted from that consequence by the language with which we are concerned here. Nonetheless, what legislative history there is indicates that this language was intended by Congress to mean what it says.
A predecessor of § 2 was contained in an earlier draft of the proposed amendment, which passed the House of Representatives, but was defeated in the Senate early in 1866. The Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction
then reconvened, and, for a short period in April, 1866, revised and redrafted what ultimately became the Fourteenth Amendment. The Journal of that Committee's proceedings shows only what motions were made and how the various members of the Committee voted on the motions; it does not indicate the nature or content of any of the discussion in the Committee. While the Journal thus enables us to trace the evolution of the draft language in the Committee, it throws only indirect light on the intention or purpose of those who drafted § 2. See B. Kendrick, Journal of the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction 104-120 (1914).
We do know that the particular language of § 2 upon which petitioner relies was first proposed by Senator Williams of Oregon to a meeting of the Joint Committee on April 28, 1866. Senator Williams moved to strike out what had been § 3 of the earlier version of the draft, and to insert in place thereof the following:
"Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this Union according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State excluding Indians not taxed. But whenever in any State the elective franchise shall be denied to any portion of its male citizens, not less than twenty-one years of age, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion or other crime, the basis of representation in such State shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens not less than twenty-one years of age."
Id. at 102. The Joint Committee approved this proposal by a lopsided margin, and the draft Amendment was reported to the House floor with no change in the language of § 2.
Throughout the floor debates in both the House and the Senate, in which numerous changes of language in § 2 were proposed, the language "except for participation in rebellion, or other crime" was never altered. The language of § 2 attracted a good deal of interest during the debates, but most of the discussion was devoted to its foreseeable consequences in both the Northern and Southern States, and to arguments as to its necessity or wisdom. What little comment there was on the phrase in question here supports a plain reading of it.
Congressman Bingham of Ohio, who was one of the principal architects of the Fourteenth Amendment and an influential member of the Committee of Fifteen, commented with respect to § 2 as follows during the floor debates in the House:
"The second section of the amendment simply provides for the equalization of representation among all the States of the Union, North, South, East, and West. It makes no discrimination. New York has a colored population of fifty thousand. By this section, if that great State discriminates against her colored population as to the elective franchise, (except in cases of crime), she loses to that extent her representative power in Congress. So also will it be with every other State."
Cong.Globe, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 2543 (1866). Two other Representatives who spoke to the question made similar comments. Representative Eliot of Massachusetts commented in support of the enactment of § 2 as follows:
"Manifestly no State should have its basis of national representation enlarged by reason of a portion of citizens within its borders to which the elective franchise is denied. If political power shall be lost because of such denial, not imposed because of
participation in rebellion or other crime, it is to be hoped that political interests may work in the line of justice, and that the end will be the impartial enfranchisement of all citizens not disqualified by crime."
Id. at 2511.
Representative Eckley of Ohio made this observation:
"Under a congressional act, persons convicted of a crime against the laws of the United States the penalty for which is imprisonment in the penitentiary are now and always have been disfranchised, and a pardon did not restore them unless the warrant of pardon so provided."
". . . But suppose the mass of the people of a State are pirates, counterfeiters, or other criminals, would gentlemen be willing to repeal the laws now in force in order to give them an opportunity to land their piratical crafts and come on shore to assist in the election of a President or members of Congress because they are numerous? And let it be borne in mind that these latter offenses are only crimes committed against property; that of treason is against the nation, against the whole people -- the highest known to the law."
Id. at 2535.
The debates in the Senate did not cover the subject as exhaustively as did the debates in the House, apparently because many of the critical decisions were made by the Republican Senators in an unreported series of caucuses off the floor. Senator Saulsbury of Delaware, a Democrat who was not included in the majority caucus, observed:
"It is very well known that the majority of the members of this body who favor a proposition of this character have been in very serious deliberation
for several days in reference to these amendments, and have held some four or five caucuses on the subject."
Id. at 2869. Nonetheless, the occasional comments of Senators on the language in question indicate an understanding similar to that of the House members. Senator Johnson of Maryland, one of the principal opponents of the Fourteenth Amendment, made this argument:
"Now it is proposed to deny the right to be represented of a part simply because they are not permitted to exercise the right of voting. You do not put them upon the footing of aliens, upon the footing of rebels, upon the footing of minors, upon the footing of the females, upon the footing of those who may have committed crimes of the most heinous character. Murderers, robbers, houseburners, counterfeiters of the public securities of the United States, all who may have committed any crime, at any time, against the laws of the United States or the laws of a particular State, are to be included within the basis; but the poor black man, unless he is permitted to vote, is not to be represented, and is to have no interest in the Government."
Id. at 3029.
Senator Henderson of Missouri, speaking in favor of the version of § 2 which had been reported by the Joint Committee in April, as opposed to the earlier provision of the proposal which had been defeated in the Senate, said this:
"The States under the former proposition [the corresponding provision of the original Amendment reported by the Committee of Fifteen, which passed the House of Representatives but was defeated in the Senate] might have excluded the negroes under
an educational test and yet retained their power in Congress. Under this, they cannot. For all practical purposes, under the former proposition, loss of representation followed the disfranchisement of the negro only; under this, it follows the disfranchisement of white and black unless excluded on account of 'rebellion or other crime.'"
Id. at 3033.
Further light is shed on the understanding of those who framed and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus on the meaning of § 2, by the fact that, at the time of the adoption of the Amendment, 29 States had provisions in their constitutions which prohibited, or authorized the legislature to prohibit, exercise of the franchise by persons convicted of felonies or infamous crimes. [Footnote 14]
More impressive than the mere existence of the state constitutional provisions disenfranchising felons at the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment is the congressional treatment of States readmitted to the Union following the Civil War. For every State thus readmitted, affirmative congressional action in the form of an enabling act was taken, and as a part of the
readmission process the State seeking readmission was required to submit for the approval of the Congress its proposed state constitution. In March, 1867, before any State was readmitted, Congress passed "An act to provide for the more efficient Government of the Rebel States," the so-called Reconstruction Act. Act of Mar. 2, 1867, c. 153, 14 Stat. 428. Section 5 of the Reconstruction Act established conditions on which the former Confederate States would be readmitted to representation in Congress. It provided:
"That when the people of any one of said rebel States shall have formed a constitution of government in conformity with the Constitution of the United States in all respects, framed by a convention of delegates elected by the male citizens of said State, twenty-one years old and upward, of whatever race, color, or previous condition, who have been resident in said State for one year previous to the day of such election, except such as may be disfranchised for participation in the rebellion or for felony at common law, and when such constitution shall provide that the elective franchise shall be enjoyed by all such persons as have the qualifications herein stated for electors of delegates, and when such constitution shall be ratified by a majority of the persons voting on the question of ratification who are qualified as electors for delegates, and when such constitution shall have been submitted to Congress for examination and approval, and Congress shall have approved the same, and when said State, by a vote of its legislature elected under said constitution, shall have adopted the amendment to the Constitution of the United States, proposed by the Thirty-ninth Congress, and known as article fourteen, and when said article shall have become a part of the Constitution
of the United States, said State shall be declared entitled to representation in Congress, and senators and representatives shall be admitted therefrom on their taking the oath prescribed by law, and then and thereafter the preceding sections of this act shall be inoperative in said State. . . ."
(Emphasis supplied.) Section 5 was introduced as a Senate amendment to the House bill, which was concerned only with the establishment of military government in the former Confederate States. Cong.Globe, 39th Cong., 2d Sess., 1360-1361 (1867). The legislative history of the Reconstruction Act was recounted by Senator Henderson of Missouri, who ultimately voted for it:
"As the bill originally came from the House, it was a bald and naked proposition to establish without limitation of power or the time of its duration a purely military government for the ten States now unrepresented. This, in my judgment, was a most dangerous experiment. . . ."
"The Senate, being unwilling to embark on the experiment of pure military rule, modified the House bill by adopting what is known a the Blaine or Sherman amendment. This amendment conceded military rule, as asked by the House, but put some sort of limit to its duration. It provided that, when the rebel States should adopt universal suffrage, regardless of color or race, excluding none, white or black, except for treason or such crimes as were felony at the common law, the regulation of exclusion to be left to the States themselves, and should adopt the constitutional amendment proposed at the lat session of Congress . . . and so soon as a sufficient number of said States should adopt it to make it a
part of the Constitution of the United States, then military law should cease and the States should be admitted, provided that Congress even then should see fit to receive them."
Id. at 1641.
A series of enabling acts in 1868 and 1870 admitted those States to representation in Congress. The Act admitting Arkansas, the first State to be so admitted, attached a condition to its admission.Act of June 22, 1868, c. 69, 15 Stat. 72. That Act provided:
"WHEREAS the people of Arkansas, in pursuance of the provisions of an act entitled 'An act for the more efficient government of the rebel States' passed March second, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven, and the act supplementary thereto, have framed and adopted a constitution of State government, which is republican, and the legislature of said State has duly ratified the amendment to the Constitution of the United States proposed by the Thirty-ninth Congress, and known as article fourteen: Therefore,"
"Be it enacted . . . That the State of Arkansas is entitled and admitted to representation in Congress as one of the States of the Union upon the following fundamental condition: That the constitution of Arkansas shall never be so amended or changed as to deprive any citizen or class of citizens of the United States of the right to vote who are entitled to vote by the constitution herein recognized, except as a punishment for such crimes as are now felonies at common law, whereof they shall have been duly convicted, under laws equally applicable to all the inhabitants of said State: Provided, That any alteration of said constitution prospective in its effect may be made in regard to the time and place of residence of voters. "
The phrase "under laws equally applicable to all the inhabitants of said State" was introduced as an amendment to the House bill by Senator Drake of Missouri. Cong.Globe, 40th Cong., 2d Sess., 2600 (1868). Senator Drake's explanation of his reason for introducing his amendment is illuminating. He expressed concern that, without that restriction, Arkansas might misuse the exception for felons to disenfranchise Negroes:
"There is still another objection to the condition as expressed in the bill, and that is in the exception as to the punishment for crime. The bill authorizes men to be deprived of the right to vote 'as a punishment for such crimes as are now felonies at common law, whereof they shall have been duly convicted.' There is one fundamental defect in that, and that is that there is no requirement that the laws under which men shall be duly convicted of these crimes shall be equally applicable to all the inhabitants of the State. It is a very easy thing in a State to make one set of laws applicable to white men, and another set of laws applicable to colored men."
The same "fundamental condition" as was imposed by the act readmitting Arkansas was also, with only slight variations in language, imposed by the Act readmitting North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, enacted three days later. Act of June 25, 1868, c. 70, 15 Stat. 73. That condition was again imposed by the Acts readmitting Virginia, Mississippi, Texas, and Georgia early in 1870. Act of Jan. 26, 1870, c. 10, 16 Stat. 62; Act of Feb. 1, 1870, c. 12, 16 Stat. 63; Act of Feb. 23, 1870, c.19, 16 Stat. 67; Act of Mar. 30, 1870, c. 39, 16 Stat. 80; Act of July 15, 1870, c. 299, 16 Stat. 363.
This convincing evidence of the historical understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment is confirmed by the decisions of this Court which have discussed the constitutionality of provisions disenfranchising felons. Although the Court has never given plenary consideration to the precise question of whether a State may constitutionally exclude some or all convicted felons from the franchise, we have indicated approval of such exclusions on a number of occasions. In two cases decided toward the end of the last century, the Court approved exclusions of bigamists and polygamists from the franchise under territorial laws of Utah and Idaho. Murphy v. Ramsey,114 U. S. 15 (1885); Davis v. Beason,133 U. S. 333 (1890). Much more recently, we have strongly suggested in dicta that exclusion of convicted felons from the franchise violates no constitutional provision. In Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections,360 U. S. 45 (1959), where we upheld North Carolina's imposition of a literacy requirement for voting, the Court said, id. at 360 U. S. 51:
"Residence requirements, age, previous criminal record (Davis v. Beason,133 U. S. 333, 133 U. S. 345-347) are obvious examples indicating factors which a State may take into consideration in determining the qualifications of voters."
Still more recently, we have summarily affirmed two decisions of three-judge District Courts rejecting constitutional challenges to state laws disenfranchising convicted felons. Fincher v. Scott, 352 F.Supp. 117 (MDNC 1972), aff'd, 411 U.S. 961 (1973); Beacham v. Braterman, 30 F.Supp. 182 (SD Fla.), aff'd,396 U. S. 12 (1969). Both District Courts relied on Green v. Board of Elections, 380 F.2d 445 (1967), cert. denied, 389 U.S. 1048 (1968), where the Court of Appeals for the
Second Circuit held that a challenge to New York's exclusion of convicted felons from the vote did not require the convening of a three-judge district court.
Despite this settled historical and judicial understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment's effect on state laws disenfranchising convicted felons, respondents argue that our recent decisions invalidating other state-imposed restrictions on the franchise as violative of the Equal Protection Clause require us to invalidate the disenfranchisement of felons as well. They rely on such cases as Dunn v. Blumstein,405 U. S. 330 (1972), Bullock v. Carter,405 U. S. 134 (1972), Kramer v. Union Free School District,395 U. S. 621 (1969), and Cipriano v. City of Houma,395 U. S. 701 (1969), to support the conclusions of the Supreme Court of California that a State must show a "compelling state interest" to justify exclusion of ex-felons from the franchise and that California has not done so here.
As we have seen, however, the exclusion of felons from the vote has an affirmative sanction in § 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, a sanction which was not present in the case of the other restrictions on the franchise which were invalidated in the cases on which respondents rely. We hold that the understanding of those who adopted the Fourteenth Amendment, as reflected in the express language of § 2 and in the historical and judicial interpretation of the Amendment's applicability to state laws disenfranchising felons, is of controlling significance in distinguishing such laws from those other state limitations on the franchise which have been held invalid under the Equal Protection Clause by this Court. We do not think that the Court's refusal to accept Mr. Justice Harlan's position in his dissents in Reynolds v. Sims,377 U. S. 533, 377 U. S. 589 (1964), and Carrington v. Rash,380 U. S. 89, 380 U. S. 97 (1965), that § 2 is the only part of the Amendment
dealing with voting rights, dictates an opposite result. We need not go nearly so far as Mr. Justice Harlan would to reach our conclusion, for we may rest on the demonstrably sound proposition that § 1, in dealing with voting rights as it does, could not have been meant to bar outright a form of disenfranchisement which was expressly exempted from the less drastic sanction of reduced representation which § 2 imposed for other forms of disenfranchisement. Nor can we accept respondents' argument that, because § 2 was made part of the Amendment
"'largely through the accident of political exigency, rather than through the relation which it bore to the other sections of the Amendment,'"
we must not look to it for guidance in interpreting § 1. It is as much a part of the Amendment as any of the other sections, and how it became a part of the Amendment is less important than what it says and what it means.
Pressed upon us by the respondents, and by amici curiae, are contentions that these notions are outmoded, and that the more modern view is that it is essential to the process of rehabilitating the ex-felon that he be returned to his role in society as a fully participating citizen when he has completed the serving of his term. We would by no means discount these arguments if addressed to the legislative forum which may properly weigh and balance them against those advanced in support of California's present constitutional provisions. But it is not for us to choose one set of values over the other. If respondents are correct, and the view which they advocate is indeed the more enlightened and sensible one, presumably the people of the State of California will ultimately come around to that view. And if they do not do so, their failure is some evidence, at least, of the fact that there are two sides to the argument.
We therefore hold that the Supreme Court of California erred in concluding that California may no longer, consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, exclude from the franchise convicted felons who have completed their sentences and paroles. The California court did not reach respondents' alternative contention that there was such a total lack of uniformity in county election officials' enforcement of the challenged state laws as to work a separate denial of equal protection, and we believe that it should have an opportunity to consider the claim before we address ourselves to it. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
The petition for a writ of mandate in the Supreme Court of California also named the California Secretary of State as a respondent in his capacity of chief elections officer of the State of California. He did not join the petition for a writ of certiorari to this Court, and has filed a brief as a party respondent. Respondents here (petitioners below) also include, in addition to the three individual respondents, the League of Women Voters and three nonprofit organizations which support the interests of ex-convicts -- Los Pintos, 7th Step Foundations, Inc. (California Affiliates), and Prisoners' Union.
Proposition 7, passed at the November 7, 1972, general election, repealed former Art. II, § 1, of the California Constitution and added new Art. II, § 3:
"The Legislature shall prohibit improper practices that affect elections and shall provide that no severely mentally deficient person, insane person, person convicted of an infamous crime, nor person convicted of embezzlement or misappropriation of public money, shall exercise the privileges of an elector in this state."
The Supreme Court of California concluded that the new constitutional provision was no different in substance from the former one, and that it did not implicitly repeal the implementing sections of the California Elections Code challenged here.
Section 310 of the California Elections Code provides in relevant part that
"[t]he affidavit of registration shall show:"
"* * * *"
"(h) That the affiant is not disqualified to vote by reason of a felony conviction."
Section 321 sets the form of the registration affidavit, which includes the following: "10. I am not disqualified to vote by reason of a felony conviction."
Section 383 of the California Elections Code provides:
"The county clerk shall cancel the registration in the following cases:"
"* * * *"
"(c) Upon the production of a certified copy of a subsisting judgment of the conviction of the person registered of any infamous crime or of the embezzlement or misappropriation of any public money. . . ."
Section 389 provides:
"The county clerk shall, in the first week of September in each year, examine the records of the courts having jurisdiction in case of infamous crimes and the embezzlement or misappropriation of public money, and shall cancel the affidavits of registration of all voters who have been finally convicted of an infamous crime or of the embezzlement or misappropriation of public money. . . ."
Section 390 provides:
"The county clerk, on the basis of the records of courts in the county having jurisdiction of such offenses, shall furnish to the registrar of voters in a county where there is a registrar of voters, before the first day of September of each year a statement showing the names of all persons convicted of infamous crimes or of the embezzlement or misappropriation of public money during the year prior to that first day of September, whose convictions have become final. The registrar of voters shall, during the first week of September in each year, cancel the affidavits of registration of such persons. The county clerk shall certify the statement under the seal of his office. . . ."
Section 14240 of the California Elections Code (Supp. 1974) provides:
"A person offering to vote may be orally challenged within the polling place only by a member of the precinct board upon any or all of the following grounds:"
"* * * *"
"(g) That he has been convicted of a felony."
"* * * *"
"On the day of the election. no person, other than a member of a precinct board or other official responsible for the conduct of the election, shall challenge any voter or question him concerning his qualifications to vote. . . ."
Section 14246 (Supp. 1974) provides:
"If the challenge is on the ground that the person challenged has been convicted of a felony or that he has been convicted of the embezzlement or misappropriation of public money, he shall not be questioned, but the fact may be proved by the production of an authenticated copy of the record or by the sworn oral testimony of two witnesses."
Section 1203.4 of the California Penal Code (Supp. 1974) provides:
"(a) In any case in which a defendant has fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of the period of probation, or in any other case in which a court, in its discretion and the interests of justice, determines that a defendant should be granted the relief available under this section, the defendant shall, at any time after the termination of the period of probation, if he is not then serving a sentence for any offense, on probation for any offense, or charged with the commission of any offense, be permitted by the court to withdraw his plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty; or, if he has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court shall set aside the verdict of guilty; and, in either case, the court shall thereupon dismiss the accusations or information against the defendant and he shall thereafter be released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense of which he has been convicted. The probationer shall be informed of this right and privilege in his probation papers. . . ."
Section 4852.01 of the California Penal Code (1970) provides that a person convicted of a felony who was incarcerated may file, any time after his release from custody, a notice of intention to apply for a certificate of rehabilitation and pardon. It further provides, however:
"This chapter shall not apply to persons convicted of misdemeanors; to persons who have served time in county jails only; to persons serving a mandatory life parole; to persons committed under death sentences; or to persons in the military service."
Section 4852.13 of the California Penal Code (1970) provides:
"If, after hearing, the court finds that the petitioner has demonstrated by his course of conduct his rehabilitation and his fitness to exercise all of the civil and political rights of citizenship, the court shall make an order declaring that the petitioner has been rehabilitated, and recommending that the Governor grant a full pardon to the petitioner. Such order shall be filed with the clerk of the court, and shall be known as a certificate of rehabilitation. The certificate shall show the date on which the original notice of intention to apply for a certificate was filed."
Section 4852.16 provides:
"The certified copy of a certificate of rehabilitation transmitted to the Governor shall constitute an application for a full pardon upon receipt of which the Governor may, without any further investigation, issue a pardon to the person named therein, except that, pursuant to Section 1 of Article VII of the Constitution, the Governor shall not grant a pardon to any person twice convicted of felony, except upon the written recommendation of a majority of the judges of the Supreme Court."
Section 4852.17 (Supp. 1974) provides:
"Whenever a person is granted a full and unconditional pardon by the Governor, based upon a certificate of rehabilitation, the pardon shall entitle the person to exercise thereafter all civil and political rights of citizenship, including but not limited to: (1) the right to vote. . . ."
Section 350 of the California Elections Code (1961) provides:
"If the county clerk refuses to register any qualified elector in the county, the elector may proceed by action in the superior court to compel his registration. In an action under this section, as many persons may join as plaintiffs as have causes of action."
Respondents contended that pardon was not an effective device for obtaining the franchise, noting that, during 1968-1971, 34,262 persons were released from state prisons, but only 282 pardons were granted.
Respondent Ramirez was convicted in Texas of the felony of "robbery by assault" in 1952. He served three months in jail and successfully terminated his parole in 1962. In February, 1972, the San Luis Obispo County Clerk refused to allow Ramirez to register to vote on the ground that he had been convicted of a felony and spent time in incarceration. Respondent Lee was convicted of the felony of heroin possession in California in 1955, served two years in prison, and successfully terminated his parole in 1959. In March, 1972, the Monterey County Clerk refused to allow Lee to register to vote on the sole ground that he had been convicted of a felony and had not been pardoned by the Governor. Respondent Gill was convicted in 1952 and 1967 of second-degree burglary in California, and in 1957 of forgery. He served some time in prison on each conviction, followed by a successful parole. In April, 1972, the Stanislaus County Registrar of Voters refused to allow Gill to register to vote on the sole ground of his prior felony convictions.
Paragraph VI of respondents' petition for mandamus states that the named
"Petitioners bring this action individually and on behalf of all other persons who are ineligible to register to vote in California solely by reason of a conviction of a felony other than an election code felony."
The remainder of the petition makes it clear that the class was further restricted to ex-felons, and the Supreme Court of California so treated it.
We refer to the named "defendants" in the action in the Supreme Court of California, even though in that court they were actually denominated respondents according to California practice, and we refer to named "plaintiffs" in that court, even though they were actually there denominated as petitioners. We do this for convenience of reference, in order to avoid as much as possible confusion between reference to the position of the parties in the Supreme Court of California and their position here.
The parties agree that the lack of uniformity is the result of differing interpretations of the 1966 Supreme Court of California decision in Otsuka v. Hite, 64 Cal.2d 596, 414 P.2d 412, which defined "infamous crime" as used in the California constitutional provisions.
The California Secretary of State's report noted that "[m]ost" of the 49 responding counties
"have attempted to develop consistent criteria for determining which ex-felons shall be entitled to register. In some counties, these policies have been formalized in writing, but in most instances a case-by-case method has been used."
The report concluded:
"2. Although the policy within most counties may be consistent, the fact that some counties have adopted different policies has created a situation in which there is a lack of uniformity across the state. It appears from the survey that a person convicted of almost any given felony would find that he is eligible to vote in some California counties and ineligible to vote in others."
"3. In order to remedy this lack of uniformity, authoritative guidelines from either the legislature or the courts are urgently needed."
Our Brother MARSHALL argues in dissent that, since the Supreme Court of California did not issue the peremptory writ of mandate,. its opinion in this case is an advisory one which does not come within the "case or controversy" requirement of Art. III of the Constitution. He also contends that that court's refusal to issue the peremptory writ must rest on some unarticulated state ground, which he concludes should bar review of the federal constitutional question by this Court.
The Supreme Court of California has only recently noted its policy of avoiding advisory opinions on abstract questions of law, In re William M., 3 Cal.3d 16, 473 P.2d 737 (1970), while in the same opinion adverting to its "declaratory use of habeas corpus in a number of cases" such as In re Gonsalves, 48 Cal.2d 638 311 P.2d 483 (1957). In support of its determination in the case before us that exercise of its original jurisdiction would be appropriate, the Supreme Court of California cited Young v. Gnoss, 7 Cal.3d 18, 496 P.2d 445 (1972). There it had exercised its original mandamus jurisdiction to conclude that the durational residence requirements for voting imposed by California law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Saying that its "function at this time is simply to declare the minimum that must be done to implement Dunn v. Blumstein[,405 U. S. 330 (1972)]," 7 Cal.3d at 27, 496 P.2d at 451, the court refused to issue a peremptory writ of mandate in that case, just as it did here, saying that,
"[s]ince there is no reason to believe that any of the parties to this proceeding will not accede to our holdings herein, no purpose would be served by issuing a writ of mandate to compel such compliance with respect to the November, 1972, general election. . . ."
Id. at 29, 496 P.2d at 453. United States courts of appeals, which are barred by the case or controversy requirement of Art. III from issuing advisory opinions, have nonetheless declined to issue peremptory writs against district judges on the assumption that the latter would abide by the opinion of the court of appeals without the compulsion of such a writ. In re United States, 257 F.2d 844 (CA5 1958); In re United States, 207 F.2d 567 (CA5 1953).
We think that the reliance of the Supreme Court of California on its earlier decision recognizing and approving the use of its original jurisdiction to grant declaratory relief, as well as its reliance on precedent in an original mandamus proceeding in which it reached the merits but declined to issue the peremptory writ where there was no question of mootness, supports our conclusion that that court's judgment in this case is for all practical purposes at least a declaratory judgment. And it is well settled that, where there is "an actual and acute controversy," an appeal from a declaratory judgment of a state court presents a "case or controversy" within this Court's jurisdiction. Nashville, C. & St. L.R. Co. v. Wallace,288 U. S. 249 (1933). Indeed, any other conclusion would unnecessarily permit a state court of last resort, quite contrary to the intention of Congress in enacting 28 U.S.C. § 1257, to invalidate state legislation on federal constitutional grounds without any possibility of state officials who were adversely affected by the decision seeking review in this Court.
We are equally unable to accept the view of the dissenters that the California court's failure here to issue the peremptory writ must rest on that court's resolution of some unspecified state law question against petitioner. The mere failure of a state court to award peremptory relief in a proceeding which it treats as one for a declaratory judgment is not an "adequate state ground" which precludes our review of its federal constitutional holding.
Ala.Const., Art. 6, § 5 (1819); Cal.Const., Art. 2, § 5 (1849); Conn.Const., Art. 6, § 3 (1818); Del.Const., Art. 4, § 1 (1831); Fla.Const., Art. 6, § 4 (1838); Ga.Const., Art. 2, § 6 (1868); Ill.Const., Art. , § 30 (1818); Ind.Const., Art. 6, § 4 (1816); Iowa Const., Art. 2, § 5 (1846); Kan.Const., Art. 5, § 2 (1859); Ky.Const., Art. 6, § 4 (1799); La.Const., Art. 6, § 4 (1812); Md.Const., Art. 1, § 5 (1851); Minn.Const., Art. 7, § 2 (1857); Miss.Const., Art. 6, § 5 (1817); Mo.Const., Art. 3, § 14 (1820); Nev.Const., Art. 2, § 1 (1864); N.J.Const., Art. 2, § 1 (1844); N.Y.Const., Art. 2, § 2 (1821); N.C.Const., Art. 6, § 5 (1868); Ohio Const., Art. 4, § 4 (1802); Ore.Const., Art. 2, § 3 (1857); R.I.Const., Art. 2, § 4 (1842); S.C.Const., Art. 4 (1865); Tenn.Const., Art. 4, § 2 (1834); Tex.Const., Art. 7, § 4 (1845); Va.Const., Art. 3, § 14 (1830); W.Va.Const., Art. 3, § 1 (1863); Wis.Const., Art. 3, § 2 (1848).
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN joins, dissenting.
The Court today holds that a State may strip ex-felons who have fully paid their debt to society of their fundamental right to vote without running afoul of the Fourteenth Amendment. This result is, in my view, based on an unsound historical analysis which already has been rejected by this Court. In straining to reach that result, I believe that the Court has also disregarded important limitations on its jurisdiction. For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.
A brief retracing of the procedural history of this case is necessary to a full understanding of my views. Each of the respondents, the plaintiffs below, [Footnote 2/1] had been convicted
of a felony unrelated to voting and had fully served his term of incarceration and parole. Each applied to register to vote in his respective county -- Ramirez in San Luis Obispo County, Lee in Monterey County, and Gill in Stanislaus County. All three were refused registration because, under applicable provisions of the California Constitution, "no person convicted of any infamous crime . . . shall ever exercise the privileges of an elector." [Footnote 2/2]
The three named plaintiffs filed a petition for a writ of mandate in the California Supreme Court, invoking its original jurisdiction. Plaintiffs challenged the State's disenfranchisement of ex-felons as being violative of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and sought issuance of a peremptory writ of mandate to compel their registration. The complaint labeled the suit as brought "individually and on behalf of all other persons who are ineligible to register to vote in California solely by reason of a conviction of a felony other than an election code felony" and who had fully served their terms of incarceration and parole. The complaint named as defendants the election officials who had refused to register them,
"individually and as representatives of the class of all other County Clerks and Registrars of Voters who have the duty of determining for their respective counties whether any ex-felon will be denied the right to vote. "
The three named election officials did not contest the action, and represented to the state court that they would permit the named plaintiffs and all similarly situated ex-felons in their counties to register and to vote. The representative of the Secretary of State of California, also named as a defendant, has similarly agreed not to contest the suit. [Footnote 2/3] At this point in the litigation, all of the named plaintiffs had been voluntarily afforded the relief they were seeking by the election officials in their respective counties.
Subsequently, the petitioner in this Court, Viola Richardson, as County Clerk of Mendocino County, filed a motion to intervene in the proceedings before the California Supreme Court. She indicated to the court that she was being sued in a separate action in a lower state court by an ex-felon seeking to register in her county, and that the decision in this case would be dispositive of the legal issue in that controversy. The State Supreme Court ordered Richardson added as a named defendant in the instant action, but did not name the ex-felon suing her as a plaintiff or named class representative herein.
In its opinion, the California Supreme Court found the case not to be moot, and took the opportunity to address the merits of the Fourteenth Amendment issue. It indicated that, in its view, the ex-felon disenfranchisement provision of the California Constitution and its implementing statutes violated the Equal Protection Clause. The state court did not, however, afford the plaintiffs the relief they sought. The court denied the peremptory writ of mandate.
Although the California Supreme Court did not issue a writ ordering Richardson to register either the ex-felon
suing her or any other potential elector in her county, she sought review of the state court's decision by way of writ of certiorari in this Court. The election officials in the named plaintiffs' counties did not seek review and the Secretary of State filed a memorandum opposing review by this Court.
There are a number of reasons why I do not believe this case is properly before us at this time. First, I am persuaded that the judgment of the California Supreme Court rests on an adequate and independent state ground.
"This Court, from the time of its foundation, has adhered to the principle that it will not review judgments of state courts that rest on adequate and independent state grounds. . . . Our only power over state judgments is to correct them to the extent that they incorrectly adjudge federal rights. And our power is to correct wrong judgments, not to revise opinions. We are not permitted to render an advisory opinion, and if the same judgment would be rendered by the state court after we corrected its views of federal laws, our review could amount to nothing more than an advisory opinion."
Plaintiffs sought, from the California Supreme Court, a writ of mandate compelling their registration. The state court denied that relief. The entirety of the judgment of that court is as follows:
"The alternative writ, having served its purpose, is discharged, and the petition for peremptory writ is denied."
Ramirez v. Brown, 9 Cal.3d 199, 217, 507 P.2d 1345, 1357 (1973). [Footnote 2/4]
The accompanying opinion indicates that the California court did not consider the case before it to be moot, and that, in its view, the plaintiffs' assertion that the disenfranchisement provisions were unconstitutional was well taken. Since the court nonetheless denied plaintiffs the relief they sought, we can only conclude that it did so on independent state law grounds. Cf. Brockington v. Rhodes,396 U. S. 41, 396 U. S. 44 (1969). For example, a writ of mandate being discretionary, the state court may have declined its issuance simply because the named plaintiffs had already been registered and mandate relief seemed unnecessary. [Footnote 2/5] There is certainly no indication that the decision to deny the writ was based on the state court's view on any federal question.
This Court creates an interesting anomaly by purporting to reverse the judgment of the California court. Since that court denied a writ of mandate to compel the registration of ex-felons, the only disposition consistent with this Court's view that the California disenfranchisement provisions are constitutional would be to affirm the judgment below. By reversing, the Court apparently directs the issuance of the peremptory writ. This anomaly demonstrates that this is a classic example of a case where "the same judgment would be rendered by the state court after we corrected its views of federal laws," Herb v. Pitcairn, supra, at 324 U. S. 126; hence we can but offer an advisory opinion here. Whether we agree or disagree with the state court's view of the constitutionality of the challenged provisions, the judgment of the state court will necessarily remain to deny the writ of mandate.
The Court is aware of this problem, and purports to resolve it by speculating that the California court may
have afforded plaintiffs declaratory relief. Such speculation is totally unfounded. Neither the opinion nor the judgment of the court below even mentions declaratory relief. The plaintiffs did not seek a declaratory judgment. The California Constitution, on its face, appears to bar the State Supreme Court from issuing a declaratory judgment in an original proceeding such as the one before us, since it limits that court's original jurisdiction to "proceedings for extraordinary relief in the nature of mandamus, certiorari, and prohibition." Calif.Const., Art. 6, § 10 (Supp. 1974). Exclusive jurisdiction for suits seeking declaratory relief is vested, by statute, in the State Superior Courts. [Footnote 2/6]
This Court's basis for construing the judgment of the court below as affording declaratory relief is its argument that, because the California Supreme Court is the highest court of the State, its observations on the constitutionality of the challenged disenfranchisement provisions are apt to be heeded by state officials. It is true that the opinion of the California court did indicate a view on the merits of the plaintiffs' constitutional claim. But this Court's power "is to correct wrong judgments, not to revise opinions." Herb v. Pitcairn, supra, at 324 U. S. 126. One could always argue that, where a state court had commented on a matter of federal law, state officials would heed those comments. To say that such comments are a "declaration of federal law" reviewable by this Court is a rationale that would reach every case in which the state court decision rests on adequate
state grounds, rendering that doctrine a virtual nullity. The Court also cites two cases for the proposition that the California Supreme Court can issue a declaratory judgment in an original proceeding. But on closer inspection, the cases cited by the Court, ante at 418 U. S. 41 n. 13, merely demonstrate that California courts, whose jurisdiction is not limited by any equivalent to Art. III, are free to render advisory opinions. [Footnote 2/7] There is little doubt
that many public officials would heed such an advisory opinion from the California Supreme Court, and they would also heed an advisory opinion issued by this Court, but that does not free us from the constitutional limitations on our jurisdiction.
Because I believe that the judgment of the California court was based on adequate and independent state grounds, I do not think we have jurisdiction to consider any other issues presented by this case.
Assuming, arguendo, that the California Supreme Court did grant a declaratory judgment, I still believe that we are without jurisdiction, because no case or controversy is presented. The Court seems willing to concede that the claims of the named plaintiffs may well be moot. Ante at 418 U. S. 36. The Court, however, premises its
jurisdiction on the assumption that there is a live controversy between the named petitioner in this Court and the unnamed plaintiff class members in her own county. To reach this conclusion, it is essential for the Court to conclude that this case is, in fact, a class action, and that, in the circumstances of this case, it is appropriate to look to unnamed class members to determine whether there is a live controversy.
I am forced to point out that one of the crucial premises upon which the Court bases its assumption of jurisdiction -- the existence of a class action -- is highly speculative. I am persuaded that the California court never treated this case as a class action. As the majority notes, the case was titled a class action by its originators, and the show cause order merely tracked the language of the complaint. But the California court was, of course, not bound by that designation. In the entirety of its lengthy opinion, the California court does not once refer to this suit as a class action, to respondents as class representatives, to the existence of unnamed parties or to any other indicia of class action status. Rather, the state court describes the case as simply "a proceeding for writ of mandate brought by three ex-felons to compel respondent election officials to register them as voters." 9 Cal.3d at 201, 507 P.2d at 1346. The opinion proceeds to list the three plaintiffs and, in a footnote, to explain that the only other plaintiffs were the League of Women Voters and three nonprofit organizations which support the interests of ex-felons. The opinion describes the defendants as the election officials of San Luis Obispo, Monterey, and Stanislaus Counties and the Secretary of State "in his capacity [as] chief elections officer of California," and notes that, "[u]pon application, we ordered the Mendocino County clerk [the petitioner here] joined as an additional party [defendant]." Id. at 202 n. 1, 507 P.2d at 1346