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Terry v. Adams

Citation. 345 U.S. 461 (1953)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A Texas county political organization, the Jaybird Association, has performed activities, purposefully designed to exclude Negroes from voting. The issue of constitutionality arose with the power of the organization to exclude Negroes from its primaries on racial grounds.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

For a state to permit a duplication of its election processes is to permit a flagrant abuse of those processes to defeat the purposes of the Fifteenth Amendment.


The Jaybird Association was or Party was organized in 1889. Its membership was then and always has been limited to white people; they are automatically members if their names appear on the official list of county voters. It has been run like other political parties with an executive committee named from the county’s voting precincts. Candidates for county offices submit their names to the Jaybird Committee in accordance with the normal practice followed by regular political parties all over the country. While there is no legal compulsion on successful Jaybird candidates to enter Democratic parties, they have nearly always done so since 1889 and have run and won without opposition in the Democratic primaries. Thus, the party has been the dominant political group in the county since organization. It is apparent that Jaybird activities follow a plan purposefully designed to exclude Negroes from voting.


Does a Texas county political organization have the constitutional power to exclude Negroes from its primaries on racial grounds?


No, the same qualifications as those prescribed by Texas entitling electors to vote at county-operated primaries are adopted as the sole qualifications entitling electors to vote at the county-wide Jaybird primaries with a single proviso – Negroes are excluded. The effect of the whole procedure, Jaybird primary plus Democratic Party plus general election, is to do precisely what the Fifteenth Amendment forbids – strips Negroes of every vestige of influence in selecting the officials who control the local county matters that intimately touch the daily lives of citizens.


Justice Minton

In other localities, candidates are carefully selected by both parties to give proper weight to Jew, Protestant, and Catholic, and certain posts are considered the sole possession of certain ethnic groups. The propriety of these practices is something the courts have left to the good or bad judgment of the electorate. It must be recognized that elections and other public business are influenced by all sorts of pressures from carefully organized groups. The courts do not normally pass upon these pressure groups, whether their causes are good or bad.


For a state to permit such a duplication of its election processes is to permit a flagrant abuse of those processes to defeat the purposes of the Fifteenth Amendment. The use of the county-operated primary to ratify the result of the prohibited election merely compounds the offense. It violates the Fifteenth Amendment for a state, by such circumvention, to permit within its borders the use of any device that produces an equivalent of the prohibited election. The combined Jaybird-Democratic-general election machinery has deprived these petitioners of their right to vote on account of their race and color. The only election that has counted in Texas county for more than fifty years has been that held by the Jaybirds from which Negroes were excluded. The Democratic primary and the general election have become no more than the perfunctory ratifiers of the choice that has already been made in Jaybird elections from which Negroes have been excluded. The Jaybird primary has become an integral part of the elective process that determines who shall rule and govern in this county. That violates the Constitution.

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