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MORGAN v. KATZENBACH

November 15, 1965

John P. MORGAN and Christine Morgan, Plaintiffs,
v.
Nicholas DeB. KATZENBACH, as Attorney General of the United States, and New York City Board of Elections consisting of James M. Power, Thomas Mallee, Maurice J. O'Rourke, and John R. Crews, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

 The question presented in this case is whether the Congress has constitutional power to regulate by statute the qualifications of voters and to supersede the requirements prescribed by the States. Specifically the issue is the constitutionality of Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which in effect provides that no person who has been educated in an American school in which the predominant language is other than English, shall be disqualified from voting under any literacy test. As a corollary, the ultimate problem is whether this provision of the Act of Congress supersedes the literacy test for voters prescribed by the constitution and statutes of the State of New York, which impose the ability to read and write English as a requirement for voting.

 The action is brought by voters in the City of New York, who claim that the weight of their votes is being adversely affected by the fact that numerous citizens living in New York City, who have migrated from Puerto Rico and who read and write only in the Spanish language, are being permitted by the local authorities to vote in disregard of the State literacy test and in compliance with the Act of Congress, which the plaintiffs claim is unconstitutional when it conflicts with State law. The defendants are the Attorney General of the United States and the members of the Board of Elections of the City of New York. The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment and an injunction restraining compliance with the Act of Congress. In view of the fact that this action is brought to enjoin the enforcement of an Act of Congress on the ground of its repugnance to the Constitution of the United States, a statutory three-judge court was convened, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2282 and 2284. The United States has been permitted to intervene in support of the validity of the Act of Congress, 28 U.S.C. § 2403, and Rule 24(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Attorney General of the State of New York has filed a brief as amicus curiae in support of the plaintiffs' contention.

 The plaintiffs clearly have a standing to sue. A voter who claims that the weight of his vote is being diluted or impaired by the ballots of others who are not legally entitled to vote, has a right to challenge their right of suffrage and to bring appropriate proceedings to prevent their votes from being cast or counted. *fn1"

 The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (Act of August 6, 1965, Public Law 89-110, U.S.Code Congressional and Administrative News, p. 2326 et seq.) Section 14(b), provides as follows:

 
(b) No court other than the District Court for the District of Columbia or a court of appeals in any proceeding under section 9 shall have jurisdiction to issue any declaratory judgment pursuant to section 4 or section 5 or any restraining order or temporary or permanent injunction against the execution or enforcement of any provision of this Act or any action of any Federal officer or employee pursuant hereto.

 This provision confers on this Court exclusive jurisdiction of this action. In fact the Attorney General of the United States concedes that this Court has jurisdiction, although the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York contests it. We conclude that jurisdiction exists. *fn2" The matter is before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment.

 The Constitution of the State of New York, Article II, Section 1, which defines the qualifications of voters, provides, in part, as follows:

 
Notwithstanding the foregoing provisions, after January first, one thousand nine hundred twenty-two, no person shall become entitled to vote by attaining majority, by naturalization or otherwise, unless such person is also able, except for physical disability, to read and write English.

 This requirement is reiterated in Section 150 of the Election Laws of the State of New York, *fn3" the pertinent provision of which reads as follows:

 
In the case of a person who became entitled to vote in this state by attaining majority, by naturalization or otherwise after January first, nineteen hundred twenty-two, such person must, in addition to the foregoing provisions, be able, except for physical disability, to read and write English.

 It appears from the papers annexed to the motions before the Court and it is undisputed that beginning in about 1940 there was a large migration to New York City of citizens of the United States from Puerto Rico, and that there are several hundred thousand such persons now living in New York. About half of them are unable to read or speak English, but many of them are able to read and write Spanish, because the public schools of Puerto Rico are conducted largely in that language. Thus there is a large group of American citizens residing in New York who are disqualified from voting because of the New York literacy test. It is reasonable to assume that undoubtedly there are other citizens who are also unable to meet the literacy test and are likewise disqualified from voting.

 The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was enacted by Congress and became law on August 6, 1965, as heretofore stated, contains the following provision in Section 4(e):

 
(e) (1) Congress hereby declares that to secure the rights under the fourteenth amendment of persons educated in American-flag schools in which the predominant classroom language was other than English, it is necessary to prohibit the States from conditioning the right to vote of such persons on ability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter in the English language.
 
(2) No person who demonstrates that he has successfully completed the sixth primary grade in a public school in, or a private school accredited by, any State or territory, the District of Columbia, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in which the predominant classroom language was other than English, shall be denied the right to vote in any Federal, State, or local election because of his inability to read, write, understand, or interpret any matter in the English language, except that in States in which State law provides that a different level of education is presumptive of literacy, he shall demonstrate that he has successfully completed an equivalent level of education in a public school in, or a ...

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