Yarbrough, Ex Parte 110 U.S. 651 (1884)

Author:Leonard W. Levy

Page 2938

This is the only nineteenth-century case in which the Supreme Court sustained the power of the United States to punish private persons for interfering with VOTING RIGHTS. Yarbrough and other members of the Ku Klux Klan assaulted a black citizen who voted in a congressional election. The United States convicted the Klansmen under a federal statute making it a crime to conspire to injure or intimidate any citizen in the free exercise of any right secured to him by the laws of the United States. The Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice SAMUEL F. MILLER, held that the United States "must have the power to protect the elections on which its existence depends, from violence and corruption." Miller's reasoning is confused. Congress had passed the statute in contemplation of its power to enforce the FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT. In UNITED STATES V. CRUIKSHANK (1876) the Court had ruled that the same statute could not reach private, rather than state, actions. Miller thought the situation different when Congress sought to protect rights constitutionally conferred, and he stressed Article I, section 4, which empowered Congress to alter state regulations for the election of members of Congress. But that provision did not apply here. In UNITED STATES V. REESE (1876) the Court had ruled that the FIFTEENTH AMENDMENT did not confer the right to vote on anyone, but only...

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