Terry v. Adams,
345 U.S. 461 (1953)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Terry v. Adams, 345 U.S. 461 (1953)

Terry v. Adams

No. 52

Argued January 16, 1953

Decided May 4, 1953

345 U.S. 461


Petitioners, qualified Negro voters of a Texas County, sued to determine the legality of their being excluded, solely because of their race and color, from voting in elections held by an Association consisting of all qualified white voters in the County. The Association held an election in each election year to select candidates for county offices to run for nomination in the official Democratic primary. The Association's elections were not governed by state laws, and did not utilize state elective machinery or funds. Candidates elected by the Association were not certified by the Association as its candidates in the Democratic primary, but filed their own names as candidates. However, for more than 60 years, the Association's county-wide candidates had invariably been nominated in the Democratic primaries and elected to office. The District Court found that the Association was a political organization or party, and that its chief object had always been to deny Negroes any voice or part in the election of county officials.


1. The combined election machinery of the Association and the Democratic Party deprives petitioners of their right to vote on account of their race and color, contrary to the Fifteenth Amendment. P. 345 U. S. 470.

2. The case is remanded to the District Court to enter such orders and decrees as are necessary and proper under the jurisdiction it has retained under 28 U.S.C. § 2202. P. 345 U. S. 470.

3. In exercising this jurisdiction, the District Court is left free to hold hearings to consider and determine what provisions are essential to afford Negro citizens of the County full protection from such future discriminatory election practices which deprive citizens of voting rights because of their color. P. 345 U. S. 470.

193 F.2d 600, reversed.

For opinion of MR. JUSTICE BLACK, joined by MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and MR. JUSTICE BURTON, see post, p. 345 U. S. 462. For opinion of MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, see post, p. 345 U. S. 470.

Page 345 U. S. 462

For concurring opinion of MR. JUSTICE CLARK, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE REED and MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, see post, p. 345 U. S. 477.

For dissenting opinion of MR. JUSTICE MINTON, see post, p. 345 U. S. 484.

The District Court issued a declaratory judgment holding invalid racial discriminations in a pre-primary election in a Texas County, declined to issue an injunction, but retained jurisdiction to grant further appropriate relief. 90 F.Supp. 595. The Court of Appeals reversed. 193 F.2d 600. This Court granted certiorari. 344 U.S. 883. Judgment of the Court of Appeals reversed, and cause remanded to the District Court for further proceedings, p. 345 U. S. 470.

Primary Holding

Voters may not be excluded from an organization's primary on the basis of race if primary results decide who will be elected in general elections.


The candidates nominated by the Jaybird Democratic Association were always nominated in Texas Democratic primaries and elected to office across a 50-year period. The Association was limited in membership to whites but operated like a political party, holding pre-primary contests. It did not use the state election process or state funding, and it was not subject to state laws. Its candidates participated in state primaries on their own and were not certified as the candidates of the Association.

The admitted purpose of the Association was to prevent African-Americans from voting. African-American voters argued that its actions violated the Fifteenth Amendment because it excluded them from its elections on the basis of their race.



  • Hugo Lafayette Black (Author)
  • Felix Frankfurter
  • Harold Hitz Burton
  • Hugo Lafayette Black

There is no meaningful difference between this organization and a political party. The qualifications required to participate in the organization are identical to voting requirements, except for the requirement that its members are white. This case is comparable to the decision in which the Court ruled that the Democratic Party violated the Fifteenth Amendment when it prevented African-Americans from voting in state primaries. The elections held by the organizations are duplicative of the state's election process but permitted by the state, so they can be considered state action. These were the only meaningful elections in the state over a period of several decades, while the actual state elections functioned merely as ratifying the results of the organization's elections. As a result, the organization controls the whole electoral process, even if it does not oversee every part, and its actions remove voting rights from African-Americans.


  • Tom C. Clark (Author)
  • Frederick Moore Vinson
  • Stanley Forman Reed
  • Robert Houghwout Jackson


  • Sherman Minton (Author)

Case Commentary

It was clear in this case that the organization, although not part of the government or an official political party, controlled who won the elections based on a long-standing pattern of results. This made the organization a de facto state entity, and the inability of non-whites to participate in its internal primaries effectively denied them the fundamental right to vote.

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