Classic, United States v. 313 U.S. 299 (1941)

Author:Theodore Eisenberg

Page 423

This became a TEST CASE used by the United States Attorney in Louisiana and the newly created CIVIL RIGHTS DIVISION of the Department of Justice to ascertain the federal government's power to protect VOTING RIGHTS in PRIMARY ELECTIONS. Louisiana election commissioners charged with willfully altering and falsely counting congressional primary election ballots were indicted under what are now sections 241 and 242 of Title 18, United States Code. To analyze the INDICTMENT under section 241, the Supreme Court had to determine whether the right to have one's ballot counted in a state primary election was a right or a privilege secured by the Constitution. Relying in part on Article I, section 2, of the Constitution, the Court held, 4?3, that the right to choose a congressman was "established and guaranteed" by the Constitution and hence secured by it. The Court then reaffirmed earlier holdings that Congress could protect federally secured voting rights against individual as well as STATE ACTION and squarely held that those rights included participation in state primary elections for members of Congress, thus overruling Newberry v. United States (1921).

In articulating those rights "secured by the Constitution" within the meaning of section 241, Classic forms a link between early interpretations of the phrase, as in EX PARTE YARBROUGH (1884), and later consideration of it, as in UNITED STATES V. GUEST (1966) and GRIFFIN V. BRECKENRIDGE (1971), the latter case decided under the civil counterpart to section 241, section 1985(3) of Title 42, United States Code. Classic also constitutes an important link in the chain of precedents specifically pertaining to federal power over elections. Later cases from the 1940s include SMITH V. ALLWRIGHT (1944) and United States v....

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