Filed Date: 1963
Closed Date: 1964
Clearinghouse coding complete
This case is part of the Clearinghouse Special Collection on the events and litigation leading up to and surrounding the famous Selma-to-Montgomery marches of 1965.
The Department of Justice brought this suit on July 19, 1963 under the Civil Rights Act against the State of Alabama and the Board of Registrars in Elmore County, AL. The DOJ alleged the State and Board had engaged in racially discriminatory deprivation of the right to register to vote, and it accordingly sought injunctive relief to end such practices and ensure nondiscriminatory voter registration procedures going forward. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.
The Alabama state constitution required voter registration applicants, among other things, to fill out a questionnaire without assistance, to be able to read and write, and to be of good character and embrace the duties of citizenship. Once someone was registered to vote in the State, they did not need to register again for subsequent elections. The Civil Rights Act required that registration be conducted free of discrimination and in a fair and reasonable manner. Starting on Feb. 17, 1964, the questionnaire included an oath to defend the federal and state constitutions, which had to be signed and sworn to by the registration applicant in front of a Registrar member. The revised questionnaire also included a requirement that the applicant read aloud passages from the Constitution assigned by the presiding Registrar member, as well as that the applicant write words the Registrar member dictated.
The DOJ filed a motion on Oct. 24, 29163 to examine County records related to voter registration. The County complied with the request, though a large amount of relevant records were unavailable because the Registrars had unlawfully burned most registration applications accepted prior to June 1961 and all rejected applications prior to November 1959.
After reviewing the evidence, the court (Judge Frank Johnson) granted injunctive relief on June 17, 1964. 230 F. Supp. 873. Judge Frank Johnson was one of the few judges in Alabama sympathetic to the civil rights movement and ultimately issued the injunction that made the Selma-to-Montgomery marches possible.
The court found that from December 1959 through March 1964, state officials "engaged in racially discriminatory acts and practices in conducting the registration of voters in Elmore County," including (1) applying different standards in evaluating applications from black and white applicants such that black applicants' questionnaires were evaluated more stringently and denied for technical or minor errors, (2) allowing Registrar members to assist white applicants but not black applicants, (3) denying black applicants for failure to sign the oath after failing to instruct them to do so while reminding white applicants to sign the oath, (4) not notifying black applicants of their rejection or the reason for it, and (5) requiring rejected black applicants to wait 90 days before reapplying.
The court found that while the County's white voting age population was about 2.5 times greater than the black voting age population, there were 30 times more registered white voters than registered black voters. The court also found that while over 93% of black applicants were rejected, just over 4% of white applicants were rejected. Most of the rejected black applicants demonstrated they met the qualifications for registration. The court attributed these discrepancies to the state officials' discriminatory conduct. Moreover, the court held that the discriminatory conduct was part of a larger "pattern and practice of racial discrimination."
Finding that state officials' conduct violated the Civil Rights Act, as well as the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, Judge Johnson enjoined the County and Board of Registrar from continuing this practices and from adopting new measures that would only perpetuate past discrimination. Judge Johnson also ordered the Registrar to immediately place on the voter registration rolls qualified black applicants rejected solely on the basis of race, as well to establish and maintain for all applicants the qualification standards previously used for white applicants.
The case is now closed. We have limited access to case records and information, and we will update this page if more become available.
Virginia Weeks (4/13/2018)
Johnson, Frank Minis Jr. (Alabama)
Johnson, Frank Minis Jr. (Alabama)
Last updated May 28, 2022, 3:01 a.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: Alabama
Filing Date: 1963
Closing Date: 1964
Case Ongoing: No
Department of Justice
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: No
Class Action Outcome: Not sought
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: Plaintiff
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief:
Order Duration: 1964 - None
Content of Injunction: