South Carolina v. Katzenbach

383 U.S. 301
South Carolina v. Katzenbach
Argued: January 17-18, 1966
Decided: March 7, 1966


[Syllabus from pages 301-305 intentionally omitted]
David W. Robinson, II, and Daniel R. McLeod, Columbia, S.C., for plaintiff.
Atty. Gen. Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, defendant, pro se.
R. D. McIlwaine, III, Richmond, Va., for Commonwealth of Virginia, as amicus curiae.
Jack P. F. Gremillion, Baton Rouge, La., for State of Louisiana, as amicus curiae.
Francis J. Mizell, Jr., and Richmond M. Flowers, Montgomery, Ala., for State of Alabama, as amicus curiae.
Joe T. Patterson and Charles Clark, Jackson, Miss., for State of Mississippi, as amicus curiae.
E. Freeman Leverett, Atlanta, Ga., for State of Georgia, as amicus curiae.
Levin H. Campbell, Boston, Mass., and Archibald Cox, Washington, D.C., for Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as amicus curiae.
Alan B. Handler, Newark, for State of New Jersey, as amicus curiae.
Mr. Chief Justice WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Separate Opinion

Mr. Justice BLACK, concurring and dissenting.

I agree with substantially all of the Court’s opinion sustaining the power of Congress under § 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment to suspend state literacy tests and similar voting qualifications and to authorize the Attorney General to secure the appointment of federal examiners to register qualified voters in various sections of the country. Section 1 of the Fifteenth Amendment provides that ‘The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’ In addition to this unequivocal command to the States and the Federal Government that no citizen shall have his right to vote denied or abridged because of race or color, § 2 of the Amendment unmistakably gives Congress specific power to go further and pass appropriate legislation to protect this right to vote against any method of abridgement no matter how subtle. Compare my dissenting opinion in Bell v. State of Maryland, 378 U.S. 226, 318, 84 S.Ct. 1814, 1864, 12 L.Ed.2d 822. I have no doubt whatever as to the power of Congress under § 2 to enact the provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 dealing with the suspension of state voting tests that have been used as notorious means to deny and abridge voting rights on racial grounds. This same congressional power necessarily exists to authorize appointment of federal examiners. I also agree with the judgment of the Court upholding § 4(b) of the Act which sets out a formula for determining when and where the major remedial sections of the Act take effect. I reach this conclusion, however, for a somewhat different reason than that stated by the Court, which is that ‘the coverage formula is rational in both practice and theory.’ I do not base my conclusion on the fact that the formula is rational, for it is enough for me that Congress by creating this formula has merely exercised its hitherto unquestioned and undisputed power to decide when, where, and upon what conditions its laws shall go into effect. By stating in specific detail that the major remedial sections of the Act are to be applied in areas where certain conditions exist, and by granting the Attorney General and the Director of the Census unreviewable power to make the mechanical determination of which areas come within the formula of § 4(b), I believe that Congress has acted within its established power to set out preconditions upon which the Act is to go into effect. See, e.g., Martin v. Mott, 12 Wheat. 19, 6 L.Ed. 537; United States v. George S. Bush & Co., 310 U.S. 371, 60 S.Ct. 944, 84 L.Ed. 1259; Hirabayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81, 63 S.Ct. 1375, 87 L.Ed. 1774.

Though, as I have said, I agree with most of the Court’s conclusions, I dissent from its holding that every part of § 5 of the Act is constitutional. Section 4(a), to which § 5 is linked, suspends for five years all literacy tests and similar devices in those States coming within the formula of § 4(b). Section 5 goes on to provide that a State covered by § 4(b) can in no way amend its constitution or laws relating to voting without first trying to persuade the Attorney General of the United States or the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia that the new proposed laws do not have the purpose and will not have the effect of denying the right to vote to citizens on account of their race or color. I think this section is unconstitutional on at least two grounds.

(a) The Constitution gives federal courts jurisdiction over cases and controversies only. If it can be said that any case or controversy arises under this section which gives the District Court for the District of Columbia jurisdiction to approve or reject state laws or constitutional amendments, then the case or controversy must be between a State and the United States Government. But it is hard for me to believe that a justiciable controversy can arise in the constitutional sense from a desire by the United States Government or some of its officials to determine in advance what legislative provisions a State may enact or what constitutional amendments it may adopt. If this dispute between the Federal Government and the States amounts to a case or controversy it is a far cry from the traditional constitutional notion of a case or controversy as a dispute over the meaning of enforceable laws or the manner in which they are applied. And if by this section Congress has created a case or controversy, and I do not believe it has, then it seems to me that the most appropriate judicial forum for settling these important questions is this Court acting under its original Art. III, § 2, jurisdiction to try cases in which a State is a party. [1] At least a trial in this Court would treat the States with the dignity to which they should be entitled as constituent members of our Federal Union.

The form of words and the manipulation of presumptions used in § 5 to create the illusion of a case or controversy should not be allowed to cloud the effect of that section. By requiring a State to ask a federal court to approve the validity of a proposed law which has in no way become operative, Congress has asked the State to secure precisely the type of advisory opinion our Constitution forbids. As I have pointed out elsewhere, see my dissenting opinion in Griswold v. State of Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 507, n. 6, pp. 513-515, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 1694, pp. 1697, 1698, 14 L.Ed.2d 510, some of those drafting our Constitution wanted to give the federal courts the power to issue advisory opinions and propose new laws to the legislative body. These suggestions were rejected. We should likewise reject any attempt by Congress to flout constitutional limitations by authorizing federal courts to render advisory opinions when there is no case or controversy before them. Congress has ample power to protect the rights of citizens to vote without resorting to the unnecessarily circuitous, indirect and unconstitutional route it has adopted in this section.

(b) My second and more basic objection to § 5 is that Congress has here exercised its power under § 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment through the adoption of means that conflict with the most basic principles of the Constitution. As the Court says the limitations of the power granted under § 2 are the same as the limitations imposed on the exercise of any of the powers expressly granted Congress by the Constitution. The classic formulation of these constitutional limitations was stated by Chief Justice Marshall when he said in McCulloch v. State of Maryland, 4 Wheat. 316, 421, 4 L.Ed. 579, ‘Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.’ (Emphasis added.) Section 5, by providing that some of the States cannot pass state laws or adopt state constitutional amendments without first being compelled to beg federal authorities to approve their policies, so distorts our constitutional structure of government as to render any distinction drawn in the Constitution between state and federal power almost meaningless. One of the most basic premises upon which our structure of government was founded was that the Federal Government was to have certain specific and limited powers and no others, and all other power was to be reserved either ‘to the States respectively, or to the people.’ Certainly if all the provisions to the King’s ‘transporting us beyond power of the Federal Government and reserve other power to the States are to mean anything, they mean at least that the States have power to pass laws and amend their constitutions without first sending their officials hundreds of miles away to beg federal authorities to approve them. [2] Moreover, it seems to me that § 5 which gives federal officials power to veto state laws they do not like is in direct conflict with the clear command of our Constitution that ‘The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.’ I cannot help but believe that the inevitable effect of any such law which forces any one of the States to entreat federal authorities in faraway places for approval of local laws before they can become effective is to create the impression that the State or States treated in this way are little more than conquered provinces. And if one law concerning voting can make the States plead for this approval by a distant federal court or the United States Attorney General, other laws on different subjects can force the States to seek the advance approval not only of the Attorney General but of the President himself or any other chosen members of his staff. It is inconceivable to me that such a radical degradation of state power was intended in any of the provisions of our Constitution or its Amendments. Of course I do not mean to cast any doubt whatever upon the indisputable power of the Federal Government to invalidate a state law once enacted and operative on the ground that it intrudes into the area of supreme federal power. But the Federal Government has heretofore always been content to exercise this power to protect federal supremacy by authorizing its agents to bring lawsuits against state officials once and operative state law has created an actual case and controversy. A federal law which assumes the power to compel the States to submit in advance any proposed legislation they have for approval by federal agents approaches dangerously near to wiping the States out as useful and effective units in the government of our country. I cannot agree to any constitutional interpretation that leads inevitably to such a result.

I see no reason to read into the Constitution meanings it did not have when it was adopted and which have not been put into it since. The proceedings of the original Constitutional Convention show beyond all doubt that the power to veto or negative state laws was denied Congress. On several occasions proposals were submitted to the convention to grant this power to Congress. These proposals were debated extensively and on every occasion when submitted for vote they were overwhelmingly rejected. [3] The refusal to give Congress this extraordinary power to veto state laws was based on the belief that if such power resided in Congress the States would be helpless to function as effective governments. [4] Since that time neither the Fifteenth Amendment nor any other Amendment to the Constitution has given the slightest indication of a purpose to grant Congress the power to veto state laws either by itself or its agents. Nor does any provision in the Constitution endow the federal courts with power to participate with state legislative bodies in determining what state policies shall be enacted into law. The judicial power to invalidate a law in a case or controversy after the law has become effective is a long way from the power to prevent a State from passing a law. I cannot agree with the Court that Congress-denied a power in itself to veto a state law-can delegate this same power to the Attorney General or the District Court for the District of Columbia. For the effect on the States is the same in both cases-they cannot pass their laws without sending their agents to the City of Washington to plead to federal officials for their advance approval.

In this and other prior Acts Congress has quite properly vested the Attorney General with extremely broad power to protect voting rights of citizens against discrimination on account of race or color. Section 5 viewed in this context is of very minor importance and in my judgment is likely to serve more as an irritant to the States than as an aid to the enforcement of the Act. I would hold § 5 invalid for the reasons stated above with full confidence that the Attorney General has ample power to give vigorous, expeditious and effective protection to the voting rights of all citizens. [5]


^1  If § 14(b) of the Act by stating that no court other than the District Court for the District of Columbia shall issue a judgment under § 5 is an attempt to limit the constitutionally created original jurisdiction of this Court, then I think that section is also unconstitutional.

^2  The requirement that States come to Washington to have their laws judged is reminiscent of the deeply resented practices used by the English crown in dealing with the American colonies. One of the abuses complained of most bitterly was the King’s practice of holding legislative and judicial proceedings in inconvenient and distant places. The signers of the Declaration of Independence protested that the King ‘has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures,’ and they objected to the King’s ‘transporting us beyound Seas to be tried for pretended offences.’ These abuses were fresh in the minds of the Framers of our Constitution and in part caused them to include in Art. 3, § 2, the provision that criminal trials ‘shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed.’ Also included in the Sixth Amendment was the requirement that a defendant in a criminal prosecution be tried by a ‘jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law.’

^3  See Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 as reported by James Madison in Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States (1927), pp. 605, 789, 856.

^4  One speaker expressing what seemed to be the prevailing opinion of the delegates said of the proposal, ‘Will any State ever agree to be bound hand & foot in this manner. It is worse than making mere corporations of them * * *.’ Id., at 604.

^5  Section 19 of the Act provides as follows:

‘If any provision of this Act or the application thereof to any person or circumstances is held invalid, the remainder of the Act and the application of the provision to other persons not similarly situated or to other circumstances shall not be affected thereby.’

Back to Top

Exported from Wikisource CC-BY-SA 3.0

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).