Hunter v. Underwood,
471 U.S. 222 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Hunter v. Underwood, 471 U.S. 222 (1985)

Hunter v. Underwood

No. 84-76

Argued February 26, 1985

Decided April 16, 1985

471 U.S. 222


Article VIII, § 182, of the Alabama Constitution of 1901 provides for the disenfranchisement of persons convicted of certain enumerated felonies and misdemeanors, including "any . . . crime involving moral turpitude." Appellees, one of whom is black and the other white, were disenfranchised by County Registrars under § 182 because each had been convicted of the misdemeanor of presenting a worthless check, determined by the Registrars to be a crime involving moral turpitude. Appellees brought an action in Federal District Court for declaratory and injunctive relief. The case was tried on a claim, inter alia, that the misdemeanors encompassed within § 182 were intentionally adopted to disenfranchise blacks on account of race, and that their inclusion in § 182 has had the intended effect. The District Court found that disenfranchisement of blacks was a major purpose for the Convention at which the Alabama Constitution of 1901 was adopted, but that there was no showing that § 182 was based upon racism, and that proof of an impermissible motive for § 182 would not warrant its invalidation in face of the permissible motive of disenfranchising those convicted of crimes. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, under the evidence, discriminatory intent was a motivating factor in adopting § 182, that there could be no finding of a permissible intent, that, accordingly, it would not have been adopted in the absence of the racially discriminatory motivation, and that the section, as applied to misdemeanants, violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The court also implicitly found the evidence of discriminatory impact indisputable.

Held: Section 182 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U. S. 252. That § 182 may have been adopted to discriminate against poor whites as well as against blacks would not render nugatory the purpose to discriminate against blacks, it being clear that the latter was a "but-for" motivation for adopting § 182. There is no evidence that the disenfranchisement of those convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude was a motivating purpose of the 1901 Convention. Events occurring since § 182 was adopted cannot validate the section. Nor can the Tenth Amendment save legislation prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. And the implicit authorization in § 2 of the Fourteenth

Page 471 U. S. 223

Amendment to deny the vote to citizens "for participation in rebellion, or other crime," does not except § 182 from the operation of the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 471 U. S. 227-233.

730 F.2d 614, affirmed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except POWELL, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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