Carrington v. Rash/Opinion of the Court

Carrington v. Rash
Opinion of the Court by Potter Stewart
926899Carrington v. Rash — Opinion of the CourtPotter Stewart
Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

380 U.S. 89

Carrington  v.  Rash

 Argued: Jan. 28, 1965. --- Decided: March 1, 1965

A provision of the Texas Constitution prohibits '(a)ny member of the Armed Forces of the United States' who moves his home to Texas during the course of his military duty from ever voting in any election in that State 'so long as he or she is a member of the Armed Forces.' [1] The question presented is whether this provision, as construed by the Supreme Court of Texas in the present case, [2] deprives the petitioner of a right secured by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Texas decided that it does not and refused to issue a writ of mandamus ordering petitioner's local election officials to permit him to vote, two Justices dissenting. 378 S.W.2d 304. We granted certiorari, 379 U.S. 812, 85 S.Ct. 33, 13 L.Ed.2d 26.

The petitioner, a sergeant in the United States Army, entered the service from Alabama in 1946 at the age of 18. The State concedes that he has been domiciled in Texas since 1962, and that he intends to make his home there permanently. He has purchased a house in El Paso where he lives with his wife and two children. He is also the proprietor of a small business there. The petitioner's post of military duty is not in Texas, but at White Sands, New Mexico. He regularly commutes from his home in El Paso to his Army job at White Sands. He pays property taxes in Texas and has his automobile registered there. But for his uniform, the State concedes that the petitioner would be eligible to vote in El Paso County, Texas.

Texas has unquestioned power to impose reasonable residence restrictions of the availability of the ballot. Pope v. Williams, 193 U.S. 621, 24 S.Ct. 573, 48 L.Ed. 817. There can be no doubt either of the historic function of the States to establish, on a nondiscriminatory basis, and in accordance with the Constitution, other qualifications for the exercise of the franchise. Indeed, '(t)he States have long been held to have broad powers to determine the conditions under which the right of suffrage may be exercised.' Lassiter v. Northampton County Bd. of Elections, 360 U.S. 45, 50, 79 S.Ct. 985, 989, 3 L.Ed.2d 1072. Compare United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 85 L.Ed. 1368; Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.S. 651, 4 S.Ct. 152, 28 L.Ed. 274. 'In other words, the privilege to vote in a state is within the jurisdiction of the state itself, to be exercised as the state may direct, and upon such terms as to it may seem proper, provided, of course, no discrimination is made between individuals, in violation of the Federal Constitution.' Pope v. Williams, supra, 193 U.S. at 632, 24 S.Ct. at 575.

This Texas constitutional provision, however, is unique. [3] Texas has said that no serviceman may ever acquire a voting residence in the State so long as he remains in service. It is true that the State has treated all members of the military with an equal hand. And mere classification, as this Court has often said, does not of itself deprive a group of equal protection. Williamson v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S. 483, 75 S.Ct. 461, 99 L.Ed. 563. But the fact that a State is dealing with a distinct class and treats the members of that class equally does not end the judicial inquiry. 'The courts must reach and determine the question whether the classifications drawn in a statute are reasonable in light of its purpose * * *.' McLaughlin v. State of Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 191, 85 S.Ct. 283, 288.

It is argued that this absolute denial of the vote to servicemen like the petitioner fulfills two purposes. First, the State says it has a legitimate interest in immunizing its elections from the concentrated balloting of military personnel, whose collective voice may overwhelm a small local civilian community. Secondly, the State says it has a valid interest in protecting the franchise from infiltration by transients, and it can reasonably assume that those servicemen who fall within the constitutional exclusion will be within the State for only a short period of time.

The theory underlying the State's first contention is that the Texas constitutional provision is necessary to prevent the danger of a 'takeover' of the civilian community resulting from concentrated voting by large numbers of military personnel in bases placed near Texas towns and cities. A base commander, Texas suggests, who opposes local police administration or teaching policies in local schools, might influence his men to vote in conformity with his predilections. Local bond issues may fail, and property taxes stagnate at low levels because military personnel are unwilling to invest in the future of the area. We stress-and this a theme to be reiterated-that Texas has the right to require that all military personnel enrolled to vote be bona fide residents of the community. But if they are in fact residents, with the intention of making Texas their home indefinitely, they, as all other qualified residents, have a right to an equal opportunity for political representation. Cf. Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368, 83 S.Ct. 801, 9 L.Ed.2d 821. 'Fencing out' from the franchise a sector of the population because of the way they may vote is constitutionally impermissible. '(T)he exercise of rights so vital to the maintenance of democratic institutions,' Schneider v. State of New Jersey, 308 U.S. 147, 161, 60 S.Ct. 146, 151, 84 L.Ed. 155, cannot constitutionally be obliterated because of a fear of the political views of a particular group of bona fide residents. Yet, that is what Texas claims to have done here

The State's second argument is that its voting ban is justified because of the transient nature of service in the Armed Forces. [4] As the Supreme Court of Texas stated: 'Persons in military service are subject at all times to reassignment, and hence to a change in their actual residence. * * * they do not elect to be where they are. Their reasons for being where they are * * * cannot be the same as (those of) the permanent residents.' 378 S.W.2d, at 306. The Texas Constitution provides that a United States citizen can become a qualified elector if he has 'resided in this State one (1) year next preceding an election and the last six (6) months within the district or county in which such person offers to vote.' Article VI, § 2, Texas Constitution. It is the integrity of this qualification of residence which Texas contends is protected by the voting ban on members of the Armed Forces.

But only where military personnel are involved has Texas been unwilling to develop more precise tests to determine the bona fides of an individual claiming to have actually made his home in the State long enough to vote. The State's law reports disclose that there have been many cases where the local election officials have determined the issue of bona fide residence. These officials and the courts reviewing their actions have required a 'freely exercised intention' of remaining within the State, Harrison v. Chesshir, Tex.Civ.App., 316 S.W.2d 909, 915. The declarations of voters concerning their intent to reside in the State and in a particular county is often not conclusive; the election officials may look to the actual facts and circumstances. Stratton v. Hall, Tex.Civ.App., 90 S.W.2d 865, 866. By statute, [5] Texas deals with particular categories of citizens who, like soldiers, present specialized problems in determining residence. Students at colleges and universities in Texas, patients in hospitals and other institutions within the State, and civilian employees of the United States Government may be as transient as military personnel. But all of them are given at least an opportunity to show the election officials that they are bona fide residents.

Indeed, Texas has been able, in other areas, to winnow successfully from the ranks of the military those whose residence in the State is bona fide. In divorce cases, for example, the residence requirement for jurisdictional purposes, like the requirement for the vote, is one year in the State and six months in the forum county. The Texas courts have held that merely being stationed within the State may be insufficient to show residence, even though the statutory period is fulfilled. Even a declared intention to establish a residence may be not enough. 'However, the fact that one is a soldier or sailor does not deprive him of the right to change his residence or domicile and acquire a new one.' Robinson v. Robinson, Tex.Civ.App., 235 S.W.2d 228, 230.

We deal here with matters close to the core of our constitutional system. 'The right * * * to choose,' United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 314, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 1037, 85 L.Ed. 1368, that this Court has been so zealous to protect, means, at the least, that States may not casually deprive a class of individuals of the vote because of some remote administrative benefit to the State. Oyama v. State of California, 332 U.S. 633, 68 S.Ct. 269, 92 L.Ed. 249. By forbidding a soldier ever to controvert the presumption of non-residence, the Texas Constitution imposes an invidious discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. '(T)here is no indication in the Constitution that * * * occupation affords a permissible basis for distinguishing between qualified voters within the State.' Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368, 380, 83 S.Ct. 801, 808.

We recognize that special problems may be involved in determining whether servicemen have actually acquired a new domicile in a State for franchise purposes. We emphasize that Texas is free to take reasonable and adequate steps, as have other States, [6] to see that all applicants for the vote actualy fulfill the requirements of bona fide residence. But this constitutional provision goes beyond such rules. '(T)he presumption here created is * * * definitely conclusive-incapable of being overcome by proof of the most positive character.' Heiner v. Donnan, 285 U.S. 312 324, 52 S.Ct. 358, 360, 76 L.Ed. 772. All servicemen not residents of Texas before induction come within the provision's sweep. Not one of them can ever vote in Texas, no matter how long Texas may have been his true home. '(T)he uniform of our country * * * (must not) be the badge of disfranchisement for the man or woman who wears it.' [7]


THE CHIEF JUSTICE took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Mr. Justice HARLAN, dissenting.

Notes edit

  1. Texas Constitution, Art. VI, § 2, Vernon's Ann.St.;
  2. 'The self-evident purpose of the amendment to the Constitution was to prevent a person entering military service as a resident citizen of a county in Texas from acquiring a different voting residence in Texas during the period of his military service, and to prevent a person entering military service as a resident citizen of another state from acquiring a voting residence in Texas during the period of military service.' 378 S.W.2d 304, 305. (Emphasis supplied.)
  3. While many States have rules which prescribe special tests for qualifying military personnel for the vote, none goes so far as com-
  4. The constitutional provision at issue in this case seems designed more as a rule prohibiting a serviceman from ever acquiring a voting residence than a disqualification from the franchise. Prior to 1954, Art. VI, § 1, of the Texas Constitution included among the 'classes of persons * * * not * * * allowed to vote in this State': '5. All soldiers, marines and seamen employed in the service of the Army or Navy of the United States.' This clause was eliminated, according to the annotator's notes, to 'confer the privilege to vote upon members of the regular establishment of the Armed Forces.' 9 Vernon's Texas Civ.Stat. 19 (1964 Supp.). The 1954 constitutional amendment, involved in this case, was added to the section which establishes residence qualifications for voters.
  5. 9 Vernon's Tex.Civ.Stat. (Election Code) Art. 5.08.
  6. See note 3, supra.
  7. Message of Governor Ellis Arnall to General Assembly of Georgia, p. 5 (January 3, 1944).

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).

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