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Smith v. Allwright - 321 U.S. 649, 64 S. Ct. 757 (1944)


The Texas statutory system for the selection of party nominees for inclusion on the general election ballot, Tex. Rev. Civ. Stat. Ann. art. 2955, makes the party which is required to follow these legislative directions an agency of the state in so far as it determines the participants in a primary election. The party takes its character as a state agency from the duties imposed upon it by state statutes; the duties do not become matters of private law because they are performed by a political party.


Smith, a black citizen, was denied the right to vote in a primary election and filed suit in district court for damages. Election judge Allwright argued that the primary was sponsored by the party and was a private function. Since membership to the party was restricted to whites, it was not a state function. The trial court denied Smith’s action for damages.


Was the primary election subject to constitutional controls?




The U.S. Supreme Court found that U.S. Const. art. I, § 4 authorized Congress to regulate primary as well as general elections where the primary was by law made an integral part of the election machinery. The right to vote in a primary for the nomination of candidates without discrimination by the state, like the right to vote in a general election, was secured by the United States Constitution. The Court reasoned that because the primary procedure was related to having a nominee or platform included on the general ballot, the primary elections were conducted by the party under state statutory authority, and were subject to the constitutional provisions that prevented denial of the right to vote on based on race.

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