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Case Name United States v. McLeod (Dallas County) VR-AL-0248
Docket / Court 3188-63 ( S.D. Ala. )
State/Territory Alabama
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
Special Collection Civil Rights Division Archival Collection
Selma and early civil rights enforcement
Attorney Organization U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Case Summary
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. This suit and United States v. Dallas County precipitated after a ... read more >
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. This suit and United States v. Dallas County precipitated after a series of events in Selma, AL, briefly described below.

The Dallas County Voters League ("League") sought to encourage local black citizens to register to vote. Early in 1963, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) sent volunteers to Selma to assist with a voter registration drive, while the League sponsored voting clinics. In an effort to publicize the clinics, the League organized mass meetings at local black churches starting in May 1963. During these meetings, the League provided information about registering to vote. The League also maintained records of the successful and unsuccessful voter registration applicants. Meanwhile, Dallas County Sheriff James G. Clark - famous for his support of segregation and resort to violence in opposing the civil rights movement - dispatched his officers to these mass meetings, who in turn took notes and recorded license plate numbers of cars parked in the area.

On June 17, 1963, the Dallas County Courthouse held a voter registration drive. Bosie Reese, a volunteer, was at the Courthouse interviewing people waiting in line to register. He claimed that he was there to collect names and addresses of applicants for the League's records. Sheriff Clark claimed that Reese was "molesting" those waiting in line and that he asked him to leave the Courthouse. It is unclear if Reese left, but he was subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. At trial, a state judge convicted him and ordered him to pay a fine.

Separately, Sheriff Clark put out a warrant for the arrest of SNCC volunteer Bernard Lafayette. Clark charged Lafayette with vagrancy after claiming to see him begging. Clark did not conduct any further investigation to determine if Lafayette had any visible means of supporting himself. Lafayette was acquitted after showing that the SNCC was paying his living expenses.

Meanwhile, the DOJ sued state and county officials in United States v. Dallas County.

Sometime later, Clark was patrolling the area around one of these mass meetings when he pulled over Alexander Brown, one of the workers, for having broken headlight. Brown's license had a different last name, and Clark arrested Brown for concealing his identity despite Brown's attempts to explain the discrepancy. Brown was eventually tried and acquitted.

On July 29, 1963, the Sheriff's office arrested 29 black individuals attending a meeting about voter registration, charging each with operating a motor vehicle with improper license plate lights.

Following all of these events, several large demonstrations took place in Selma in September and October seeking nondiscriminatory voter registration and equal access to public accommodations. Officials arrested many of the demonstrators, including juveniles. On October 15, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech in Selma, and state officials subsequently charged a DOJ attorney with transporting Dr. King from Birmingham to Selma in a rented car paid for by the federal government. The DOJ admitted to the charge, and on Nov. 4, the Dallas County Grand Jury subpoenaed several DOJ attorneys, as well as some black individuals active in the voter drive.

The DOJ subsequently filed this suit on Nov. 12, 1963 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Alabama against state and county officials. The DOJ argued that the mass arrests of demonstrators in September and October in conjunction with the Grand Jury subpoena functioned to intimidate, threaten, or coerce black individuals from exercising their right to vote in violation of the Civil Rights Act. The DOJ sought to enjoin the county from continuing to conduct such coercive activities.

The DOJ also sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to keep county officials from compelling the DOJ lawyers to appear before the Grand Jury. The court denied both the restraining order and the injunction, and the DOJ appealed to the Fifth Circuit. The next day, the Fifth Circuit reversed both rulings and ordered the district court to restrain the defendants from compelling the DOJ to appear before a grand jury in state court until the district court resolved the motion for preliminary injunction. Accordingly, the district court entered the temporary restraining order on Nov. 14, 1963.

After a hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction, the court (Judge Daniel Thomas) denied the preliminary injunction on March 19, 1964 (229 F.Supp. 383). Judge Thomas' opinion only addressed the Grand Jury aspect of the case. He found that the Dallas County case dealt with the coercion in violation of the Civil Rights Act claim and so it was unnecessary to address it here, although the two cases had not been consolidated. Judge Thomas held that the district court could not interfere with a grand jury in the absence of evidence it was not operating in good faith. Despite the resources and time the DOJ lawyers would have to spend in connection with appearing before the Grand Jury, the court could find "no justification for clothing the attorneys...with immunity from having to submit to the investigative powers of a duly convened lawful grand jury." Accordingly, the Grand Jury could compel the DOJ lawyers to appear before it.

The DOJ appealed, and the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded on October 16, 1967, in an opinion by Judge John Minor Wisdom, 385 F.2d 734. On appeal, the DOJ asked for the additional remedy of expungement of all convictions and corresponding financial relief. This opinion consolidates this case with U.S. v. Dallas County. Judge Wisdom was part of the "Fifth Circuit Four" -- four Fifth Circuit judges known for advancing civil rights through their decisions in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Fifth Circuit found that although the Civil Rights Act specifically prohibits any person from intimidating, threatening, or coercing another so as to interfere with the right to vote freely, Judge Thomas ignored the statutory standard and instead looked to the federal constitution. The Fifth Circuit found that while an act may not be a constitutional violation, it can still clearly be a statutory violation of the Civil Rights Act. Moreover, the court found that "[t]he right to vote encompasses the right to register." Further, the court held that the various acts at issue had to be viewed in the context of the general climate and events in Selma at the time. The court found that the acts all "took place within the context of a pattern of racial discrimination and of an intensive voter registration drive."

Ultimately, Judge Wisdom held that the "arrests, prosecutions and other acts complained of had a coercive effect and were for the purpose of interfering with the right to register and to vote." Indeed, the court noted that "[i]t is difficult to imagine anything short of physical violence which would have a more chilling effect on a voter registration drive than the pattern of baseless arrests and prosecutions revealed in this record." The court found that the League's records indicated that after the arrests began, attendance at voter education clinics significantly declined.

Specifically regarding the mass arrests in July, September, and October, the court found that three types of charges were issued justifying the arrests: (1) adults were charged with disturbing the peace, (2) juveniles were charged with truancy, and (3) those leaving the mass meetings were charged with improper license plate lights. The court held that the September and October demonstrators were acting peacefully, and so arrest was unjustified and could serve no other purpose other than to interfere with and deter voter registration. The court further held that even if the juvenile protesters were truant, evidence indicated they were arrested en masse without regard to their age or school status. They were therefore not arrested for truancy, and only so charged after they were brought to the jail. Finally, the court found that while the Civil Rights Act does not exempt arrest of people guilty of a particular crime if the arrest is done for that crime, it does bar arrests to undermine the right to vote even if the arrestee is separately guilty of a crime. The court held, therefore, that the July arrests for improper license plate lights were conducted for the sole purpose of harassing voting workers, which was prohibited by the Act. The court pointed it out that "the police often overlook violations of relatively trivial traffic laws."

The Fifth Circuit denied injunctive relief as to the Sheriff's activities monitoring the mass meetings, finding that "[i]n the explosive situation prevailing in Selma in 1963, it would have been a dereliction of duty for the county not to have provided law enforcement coverage of these mass meetings." The coercive effect was "incidental."

The Fifth Circuit enjoined the district court from compelling appearance before the Grand Jury. The court found that the Grand Jury was supposed to inquire if the DOJ lawyers "(1) consorted with, concealed and harbored known criminals and dope addicts; (2) consorted and associated with admitted sex perverts; (3) had any part in enticing children away from school during school hours to participate in street demonstrations in defiance of law; (4) acted in any manner contributing to the delinquency of minors; or (5) participated in any manner in fomenting riots, insurrection, and civil disobedience." The court found that there was no evidence to suggest that these claims warranted investigation. The court held that the entire Grand Jury investigation was invalid, and therefore there was no reason for the DOJ lawyers to appear before the Grand Jury.

The Fifth Circuit further ordered that the additional injunctive relief related to expungement of convictions and corresponding financial relief be granted. The court found that "[h]arassment in the form of baseless arrests and prosecutions is one of the most effective means of putting a halt to a voter registration drive." Such harassment, the court held, can only be stopped by a federal remedy "as broad as the evil itself." As to the initially requested injunctive relief, the Fifth Circuit remanded for consideration of the scope of appropriate relief in light of related injunctions issued in separate cases and general developments in Dallas County.

We do not have any records of the case on remand.

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 - 04/13/2018

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Content of Injunction
Discrimination Prohibition
Preliminary relief granted
Race discrimination
Voting access
Plaintiff Type
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Election administration
Causes of Action Civil Rights Act of 1957/1960, 52 U.S.C. § 10101 (previously 42 U.S.C. § 1971)
Defendant(s) Blanchard McLeod, Circuit Solicitor for the Fourth Judicial Circuit
James Hare, Judge for the Fourth Judicial Circuit
Sheriff James G. Clarke
Plaintiff Description Department of Justice
Indexed Lawyer Organizations U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Preliminary injunction / Temp. restraining order
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 1967 - n/a
Filed 11/12/1963
Case Closing Year 1967
Case Ongoing No
Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
N.D. Ala.
Statement Pursuant to Rule 65 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as to Why the Attached Order was Granted Without Notice
VR-AL-0248-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Alexander (Sandy) Ross
U.S. Court of Appeals
Motion of Appellant for an Injunction Pending Appeal and Memorandum in Support Thereof
VR-AL-0248-0003.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Brian Landsberg
S.D. Ala.
Opinion (229 F.Supp. 383)
VR-AL-0248-0006.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
U.S. Court of Appeals
Record on Appeal
VR-AL-0248-0005.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Brian Landsberg
U.S. Court of Appeals
Brief for Appellant
VR-AL-0248-0002.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Brian Landsberg
U.S. Court of Appeals
Brief for Appellant
VR-AL-0248-0004.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of Brian Landsberg
U.S. Court of Appeals
Opinion (385 F.2d 734)
VR-AL-0248-0007.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Westlaw
show all people docs
Judges Thomas, Daniel Holcombe (S.D. Ala.) show/hide docs
Wisdom, John Minor (Fifth Circuit) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Choppin, Gerald P. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-AL-0248-0002 | VR-AL-0248-0004
Doar, John (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-AL-0248-0002 | VR-AL-0248-0004
Douglas, John W. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Greene, Harold H. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-AL-0248-0002 | VR-AL-0248-0004
Jansen, Vernol R. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-AL-0248-0002 | VR-AL-0248-0003 | VR-AL-0248-0004
Marshall, Burke (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
VR-AL-0248-0002 | VR-AL-0248-0004
Rose, David L. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs

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