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United States Supreme Court

339 U.S. 282

Cassell  v.  Texas

 Argued: Nov. 10, 1949. --- Decided: April 24, 1950

Review was sought in this case to determine whether there had been a violation by Texas of petitioner's federal constitutional right to a fair and impartial grand jury. The federal question was raised by a motion to quash the indictment on the ground that petitioner, a Negro, suffered unconstitutional discrimination through the selection of white men only for the grand jury that indicted him. After full hearing, the trial court denied the motion, and this action was sustained by the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas in affirming petitioner's conviction. Cassell v. State, 216 S.W.2d 813.

The Court of Criminal Appeals accepted the federal rule that a Negro is denied the equal protection of the laws when he is indicted by a grand jury from which Negroes as a race have been intentionally excluded. Cassell v. State, supra, 216 S.W.2d 819; Neal v. State of Delaware, 103 U.S. 370, 394, 26 L.Ed. 567; Smith v. State of Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 130, 61 S.Ct. 164, 165, 85 L.Ed. 84; Hill v. State of Texas, 316 U.S. 400, 404, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 1161, 86 L.Ed. 1559; Akins v. State of Texas, 325 U.S. 398, 403, 65 S.Ct. 1276, 1279, 89 L.Ed. 1692. It was from an examination of facts that the court deduced its conclusion that racial discrimination had not been practiced. Since the result reached may deny a federal right, we may reexamine the facts to determine whether petitioner has sustained by proof his allegation of discrimination. [1] Certiorari was granted, 336 U.S. 943, 69 S.Ct. 805, to consider petitioner's claim that in this case Negroes were omitted from the list of grand jurymen either because of deliberate limitation by the Dallas County jury commissioners, or because of failure by the commissioners to acquaint themselves with available Negroes.

Acting under the Texas statutes, [2] the Dallas County grand-jury commissioners chose a list of sixteen males [3] for this September 1947 grand jury from citizens eligible under the statute. [4] The judge chose twelve of these for the panel. [5] No challenge is now made to the fairness of this statutory system. We have approved it. [6]

Petitioner's attack is upon the way the statutory method of grand-jury selection has been administered by the jury commissioners. [7] One charge is that discrimination must have been practiced because the Negro proportion of grand jurors is less than the Negro proportion of the county's population. Under the 1940 census the total population of Dallas County was 398,564, of whom 61,605 were Negroes. [8] This is about 15.5%. In weighing this matter of custom, we limit ourselves, as do the parties, to the period between June 1, 1942, when Hill v. Texas, supra, was decided, and November 1947, when petitioner was indicted. There were 21 grand juries in this period; of the 252 members of the panels, [9] 17, or 6.7% were Negroes. But this apparent discrepancy may be explained by the fact that Texas grand jurors must possess certain statutory qualifications. [10] Grand jurors must ordinarily be eligible to vote; eligibility requires payment of a poll tax; [11] and the validity of the poll-tax requirement is not challenged. The record shows 5,500 current Negro poll-tax payers in Dallas County in 1947, and nothing indicates that this number varied substantially from year to year. [12] The corresponding figure for all poll-tax payers, male and female, is 83,667. [13] These figures would indicate that as a proportional matter 6.5% of grand jurors would be Negroes, a percentage approximating the ratio of Negroes actually sitting on the 21 grand jury panels. [14] Without more it cannot be said that Negroes had been left off grand-jury panels to such a degree as to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. [15]

A different question is presented by petitioner's next charge that subsequent to the Hill case the Dallas County grand-jury commissioners for 21 consecutive lists had consistently limited Negroes selected for grand-jury service to not more than one on each grand jury. The contention is that the Akins case has been interpreted in Dallas County to allow a limitation of the number of Negroes on each grand jury, provided the limitation is approximately proportional to the number of Negroes eligible for grand-jury service. Since the Hill case the judges of the trial court have been careful to instruct their jury commissioners that discrimination on grounds of race or color is forbidden. [16] The judge did so here. [17] If, notwithstanding this caution by the trial court judges, commissioners should limit proportionally the number of Negroes selected for grand-jury service, such limitation would violate our Constitution. Jurymen should be selected as individuals, on the basis of individual qualifications, and not as members of a race.

We have recently written why proportional representation of races on a jury is not a constitutional requisite. [18] Succinctly stated, our reason was that the Constitution requires only a fair jury selected without regard to race. Obviously the number of races and nationalities appearing in the ancestry of our citizens would make it impossible to meet a requirement of proportional representation. Similarly, since there can be no exclusion of Negroes as a race and no discrimination because of color, [19] proportional limitation is not permissible. That conclusion is compelled by the United States Code, Title 18, § 243, 18 U.S.C.A. § 243, [20] based on § 4 of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. While the language of the section directs attention to the right to serve as a juror, its command has long been recognized also to assure rights to an accused. Prohibiting racial disqualification of Negroes for jury service, this congressional enactment under the Fourteenth Amendment, § 5, [21] has been consistently sustained and its violation held to deny a proper trial to a Negro accused. [22] Proportional racial limitation is therefore forbidden. An accused is entitled to have charges against him considered by a jury in the selection of which there has been neither inclusion nor exclusion because of race.

Our holding that there was discrimination in the selection of grand jurors in this case, however, is based on another ground. In explaining the fact that no Negroes appeared on this grand-jury list, the commissioners said that they knew none available who qualified; at the same time they said they chose jurymen only from those people with whom they were personally acquainted. [23] It may be assumed that in ordinary activities in Dallas County, acquaintanceship between the races is not on a sufficiently familiar basis to give citizens eligible for appointment as jury commissioners an opportunity to know the qualifications for grand-jury service of many members of another race. An individual's qualifications for grand-jury service, however, are not hard to ascertain, [24] and with no evidence to the contrary, we must assume that a large proportion of the Negroes of Dallas County met the statutory requirements for jury service. [25] When the commissioners were appointed as judicial administrative officials, it was their duty to familiarize themselves fairly with the qualifications of the eligible jurors of the county without regard to race and color. [26] They did not do so here, and the result has been racial discrimination. We repeat the recent statement of Chief Justice Stone in Hill v. Texas, 316 U.S. 400, 404, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 1161, 86 L.Ed. 1559: 'Discrimination can arise from the action of commissioners who exclude all negroes whom they do not know to be qualified and who neither know nor seek to learn whether there are in fact any qualified to serve. In such a case discrimination necessarily results where there are qualified negroes available for jury service. With the large number of colored male residents of the county who are literate, and in the absence of any countervailing testimony, there is no room for inference that there are not among them householders of good moral character, who can read and write, qualified and available for grand jury service.' The existence of the kind of discrimination described in the Hill case does not depend upon systematic exclusion continuing over a long period and practiced by a succession of jury commissioners. Since the issue must be whether there has been discrimination in the selection of the jury that has indicted petitioner, it is enough to have direct evidence based on the statements of the jury commissioners in the very case. Discrimination may be proved in other ways than by evidence of long continued unexplained absence of Negroes from many panels. The statements of the jury commissioners that they chose only whom they knew, and that they knew no eligible Negroes in an area where Negroes made up so large a proportion of the population, prove the intentional exclusion that is discrimination in violation of petitioner's constitutional rights.

The judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas is reversed.


Mr. Justice DOUGLAS took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, whom Mr. Justice BURTON and Mr. Justice MINTON join, concurring in the judgment.

It has been settled law since 1880 that the Civil War Amendments barred the States from discriminating because of race in the selection of juries, whether grand or petty. As a result, a conviction cannot stand which is based on an indictment found by a grand jury from which Negroes were kept because of discrimination. Neal v. State of Delaware, 103 U.S. 370, 26 L.Ed. 567; Pierre v. State of Louisiana, 306 U.S. 354, 59 S.Ct. 536, 83 L.Ed. 757. We ought not to reverse a course of decisions of long standing directed against racial discrimination in the administration of justice. But discrimination in this context means purposeful, systematic non-inclusion because of color. Hill v. State of Texas, 316 U.S. 400, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 86 L.Ed. 1559. It does not mean an absence of proportional representation of the various racial components of the relevant political unit from which a grand jury is drawn or an isolated instance of disparity among such components. Akins v. State of Texas, 325 U.S. 398, 403, 65 S.Ct. 1276, 1279, 89 L.Ed. 1692; Fay v. People of State of New York, 332 U.S. 261, 284, 67 S.Ct. 1613, 1625, 91 L.Ed. 2043. Assuming that the grand-jury pool fairly enough reflects the racial composition of the community, there is no basis for a claim of constitutional discrimination if without design it comes to pass that a particular grand jury has no representation of a particular race. The Civil War Amendments did not deprive the States of their power to define qualifications for grand-jury service relevant to the functions of a grand jury, nor did they turn matters that are inherently incommensurable into mere matters of arithmetic. The Constitution has not withdrawn the administration of criminal justice, of which the jury system is a part, from the States. It does command that no State purposefully make jury service turn on color.

A claim that the constitutional prohibition of discrimination was disregarded calls for ascertainment of two kinds of issues which ought not to be confused by being compendiously called 'facts.' The demonstrable, outward events by which a grand jury came into being raise issues quite different from the fair inferences to be drawn from what took place in determining the constitutional question: was there a purposeful non-inclusion of Negroes because of race or a merely symbolic representation, not the operation of an honest exercise of relevant judgment or the uncontrolled caprices of chance?

This Court does not sit as a jury to weigh conflicting evidence on underlying details, as for instance what steps were taken to make up the jury list, why one person was rejected and another taken, whether names were picked blindly or chosen by judgment. This is not the place for disputation about what really happened. On that we accept the findings of the State court. But it is for this Court to define the constitutional standards by which those findings are to be judged. Thereby the duty of securing observance of these standards may fall upon this Court. The meaning of uncontrovertible facts in relation to the ultimate issue of discrimination is precisely the constitutional issue on which this Court must pass. See Watts v. State of Indiana, 338 U.S. 49, 50-51, 69 S.Ct. 1347, 1348. Of course even as to this, as always when a State court judgment is claimed to be in disregard of the Constitution, appropriate respect should be given to the judgment of the State court. And so we are brought to this case.

If the record here showed no more than that the grand-jury commissioners had considered the Negroes with whom they were acquainted-just as they considered white persons whom they knew and had found them to be either unqualified for grand-jury service or qualified but unavailable, and did so not designedly to exclude Negroes, the State court's validation of the local procedure would have to prevail. We ought not to go behind such a conscientious process, however rough and ready the procedure of selection by jury commissioners. To find in such honest even if pragmatic selection of grand jurors the operation of unconstitutional standards would turn this Court into an agency for supervising the criminal procedure of the forty-eight States. Such an assumption of authority by this Court would jeopardize the practical functioning of grand juries throughout the country in view of the great variety of minority groups that compose our society.

A different situation would be presented by an unquestioned showing that jury commissioners had such a limited personal knowledge of potentially qualified Negro jurors that their purposeful limitation of choice to the negligibly few Negroes known to them would inevitably imply designed exclusion of eligible Negroes. The record here affords no basis whatever for such a finding. It indicates the contrary.

The record does disclose stark facts requiring reversal on a very different basis. If one factor is uniform in a continuing series of events that are brought to pass through human intervention, the law would have to have the blindness of indifference rather than the blindness of impartiality not to attribute the uniform factor to man's purpose. The purpose may not be of evil intent or in conscious disregard of what is conceived to be a binding duty. Prohibited conduct may result from misconception of what duty requires. Such misconception I believe to be the real situation on the record before us.

The governing facts are briefly stated. In Hill v. Texas, supra, this Court found discrimination in the selection of grand jurors in Dallas County, Texas, by virtue of the fact that, despite a large number of Negroes qualified for grand-jury service, none had been drawn. In the course of the five and a half years between that decision and the time of the drawing of the grand jury which found the indictment now challenged, there were twenty-one grand-jury panels. [1] On each of these twenty-one consecutive panels there was never more than one Negro. This selection was made from lists which were not the result of a drawing of lots but the personal choice of the grand-jury commissioners. The available evidence clearly indicates that no more than one Negro was chosen by the commissioners for each of the twenty-one lists. Only one Negro was placed on the list-he did not serve on the panel-for the second grand jury in Dallas County after the decision in Hill v. Texas. Again, as to the grand jury which figured in Akins v. Texas, supra, only one Negro was placed on the list, and he served as a grand juror. 325 U.S. at 405, 65 S.Ct. at 1280, 89 L.Ed. 1692. And in Weems v. State, 148 Tex.Crim. 154, 157, 185 S.W.2d 431, 433, it was stipulated that only one Negro, who did not serve on the panel, was on the list. In the present case it is conceded that no Negro was placed on the list. The State makes no contrary claim as to any of the other grand-jury lists though the facts regarding them are peculiarly within the State's knowledge. In view of this background, the assumption that more than one Negro was placed on the lists is inconceivable.

To assume that the commissioners did tender to the judges lists containing more than one Negro would lead inescapably to the conclusion that the judges systematically discriminated against Negroes. This is so because it just does not happen that from lists of sixteen it is always Negroes (barring one) that judges unpurposefully reject. I cannot attribute such discrimination to the trial judges of Dallas County. I can decline to attribute such discrimination to these judges only by concluding that the judges were never given the opportunity to select more than one Negro.

The grand-jury commissioners here received instructions from the judge not to 'discriminate,' and I have no doubt that they tried conscientiously to abide by them. The difficulty lies in what they conceived to be the standard for determining discrimination, as revealed by their action. The number of Negroes both qualified and available for jury service in Dallas County precluded such uniform presence of never more than one Negro on any other basis of good faith than that the commissioners were guided by the belief that one Negro on the grand jury satisfied the prohibition against discrimination in Hill v. Texas. That this was their view is compelled by their testimony at the hearing on the motion to quash the indictment. [2]

This is of course a misconception. The prohibition of the Constitution against discrimination because of color does not require in and of itself the presence of a Negro on a jury. But neither is it satisfied by Negro representation arbitrarily limited to one. It is not a question of presence on a grand jury nor absence from it. The basis of selection cannot consciously take color into account. Such is the command of the Constitution. Once that restriction upon the State's freedom in devising and administering its jury system is observed, the States are masters in their own household. If it is observed, they cannot be charged with discrimination because of color, no matter what the composition of a grand jury may turn out to be.

On this record I cannot escape the conclusion that the judgment below is not based on an allowable finding of facts behind which this Court cannot go. It derives from the ultimate constitutional significance of undisputed facts. These bear no other rational meaning than purposeful discrimination. It does not neutralize the discrimination that it may well have been due to a misconception by the grand-jury commissioners of the requirements of this Court's decisions.

This compels reversal of the judgment.


^1  Norris v. State of Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 590, 55 S.Ct. 579, 580, 79 L.Ed. 1074; Pierre v. State of Louisiana, 306 U.S. 354, 358, 59 S.Ct. 536, 538, 83 L.Ed. 757; Smith v. State of Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 130, 61 S.Ct. 164, 165, 85 L.Ed. 84; Fay v. People of State of New York, 332 U.S. 261, 272, 67 S.Ct. 1613, 1619, 91 L.Ed. 2043.

^2  Texas Code of Criminal Procedure (Vernon, 1948), Arts. 333 340.

^3  Id., Art. 338. Under the Texas Constitution and statutes, women may not serve on Texas juries. Texas Constitution, Art. 5, § 13, Vernon's Ann.St.; Harper v. State, 90 Tex.Cr.R. 252, 234 S.W. 909.

^4  Texas Code of Criminal Procedure (Vernon, 1948):

'Art. 339. * * * No person shall be selected or serve as a grand juror who does not possess the following qualifications:

'1. He must be a citizen of the State, and of the county in which he is to serve, and qualified under the Constitution and laws to vote in said county; but, whenever it shall be made to appear to the court that the requisite number of jurors who have paid their poll taxes can not be found within the county, the court shall not regard the payment of poll taxes as a qualification for service as a juror.

'2. He must be a freeholder within the State, or a householder within the county.

'3. He must be of sound mind and good moral character.

'4. He must be able to read and write.

'5. He must not have been convicted of any felony.

'6. He must not be under indictment or other legal accusation for theft or of any felony.'

^5  Id., Art. 357.

^6  Smith v. State of Texas, supra, 311 U.S. at page 130, 61 S.Ct. at page 165, 85 L.Ed. 84. See Zimmerman v. State, Md., 59 A.2d 675, 676-677, affirmed under title Zimmerman v. Maryland, 336 U.S. 901, 69 S.Ct. 469; Fay v. People of State of New York, 332 U.S. 261, 266, 272, 67 S.Ct. 1613, 1616, 1619, 91 L.Ed. 2043; Morse, A Survey of the Grand Jury System, Part II, 10 Ore.L.Rev. 217, 226-239.

^7  There is no suggestion in the case that any judge of the county trial courts discriminated against Negroes in his selection from the lists of the members for the grand juries.

^8  Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940, Population Volume II, Part 6, p. 795.

^9  We use the word 'panel' to mean the grand jury which is the final result of the statutory procedure. See Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 360. The record does not indicate the number of Negroes who were placed on the lists of sixteen, but did not serve. All that appears in this connection is that no Negroes were placed on the list in this case.

^10  See note 4, supra.

^11  Texas Constitution, Art. 6, § 2; Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes, 1948, Art. 2955; Conklin v. State, 144 Tex.Cr.R. 210, 162 S.W.2d 416.

^12  There is some obscurity in the record as to whether the above figure of Negro poll-tax payers refers to males only or to men and women. Tex.Cr.App., 216 S.W.2d 813, 816, 819. The testimony and the statistics in the briefs cause us to conclude that the figure refers to all eligible Negro voters.

^13  Texas Almanac, 1947-1948, p. 421.

^14  In our computations we have used statistics which include both men and women, because in many cases statistical breakdowns in terms of sex are not available. Although only men may serve on the grand juries, the use of totals including both sexes should make for only minor variations in the percentages.

^15  Compare Norris v. State of Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 591, 55 S.Ct. 579, 580, 79 L.Ed. 1074; Pierre v. State of Louisiana, 306 U.S. 354, 361, 59 S.Ct. 536, 540, 83 L.Ed. 757; Smith v. State of Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 129, 61 S.Ct. 164, 85 L.Ed. 84; Hill v. State of Texas, 316 U.S. 400, 401-403, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 1160, 1161, 86 L.Ed. 1559.

^16  Akins v. State of Texas, 325 U.S. 398, 404, 65 S.Ct. 1276, 1279, 89 L.Ed. 1692.

^17  Cassell v. State, Tex.Cr.App., 216 S.W.2d 813.

^18  Akins v. State of Texas, supra, 325 U.S. 403, 65 S.Ct. 1279, 89 L.Ed. 1692.

^19  Neal v. State of Delaware, 103 U.S. 370, 394, 26 L.Ed. 567; Akins v. State of Texas, supra, 404, 65 S.Ct. 1279, 89 L.Ed. 1692.

^20  'No citizen possessing all other qualifications which are or may be prescribed by law shall be disqualified for service as grand or petit juror in any court of the United States, or of any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; and whoever, being an officer or other person charged with any duty in the selection or summoning of jurors, excludes or fails to summon any citizen for such cause, shall be fined not more than $5,000.'

^21  'Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.'

^22  See Neal v. State of Delaware, supra, 103 U.S. 385, 386, 26 L.Ed. 567; Hill v. State of Texas, supra, 316 U.S. 404, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 1161, 86 L.Ed. 1559; Fay v. People of State of New York, supra, 332 U.S. 284, 67 S.Ct. 1625, 91 L.Ed. 2043.

^23  One commissioner said: 'I was not personally acquainted with any negro citizen of Dallas County that I thought was qualified to sit on the Grand Jury, at that time. I did not know a one personally that I would recommend, myself, at that time.

'* * * The reason that I did not submit the name of a negro in my 6 names that I submitted was because I did not know any negro citizen that I felt was qualified with reference to education and business ability to serve on this Grand Jury.'

Another said:

'We did not select a negro when I served as a Commissioner; we did disregard color, race or creed; I did not know plenty of negroes that I said would be qualified. I know a lot of negroes that are qualified lawyers, doctors, Superintendents of Schools and that sort of thing but the particular thing is that their occupation precludes their serving. You could not ask a doctor or lawyer to serve 3 months of their time, either white or colored; that limited us as to the number that we could select. I knew a lot of white and colored people that were qualified.

'I did not select a negro on this Grand Jury Panel but I tried.'

This commissioner had sought a Negro High School Principal for the list.

The third said: 'The reason a negro was not selected was not because we discriminated; I only appointed those that I personally knew to be qualified.

'If the name of any qualified negro citizen-been submitted at that time, who had given his permission and said that he had time to serve, I certainly would have submitted his name along with the other 15 names, if it was somebody that would have been acceptable to me.'

^24  See Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Arts. 339, 355.

In large centers methods of selection other than personal acquaintanceship have been found convenient. Fay v. People of State of New York, 332 U.S. 261, 67 S.Ct. 1613, 91 L.Ed. 2043.

^25  Pierre v. State of Louisiana, 306 U.S. 354, 360, 59 S.Ct. 536, 539, 83 L.Ed. 757.

^26  Smith v. Texas, supra, 311 U.S. 131-132, 61 S.Ct. 165, 166, 85 L.Ed. 84. There was a further discussion of the duty of jury commissioners to familiarize themselves with jury eligibles in Hill v. State, 144 Tex.Cr.R. 415, 418, 157 S.W.2d 369, 371. The commissioners' lack of acquaintance with available Negroes was not deemed sufficient by the state court to justify reversal. We disagreed and reversed. 316 U.S. 400, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 86 L.Ed. 1559.

^1  I use the term 'panel,' as does Mr. Justice REED in his opinion, to mean the grand jury of twelve selected from the list of sixteen persons tendered to the judge by the grand-jury commissioners.

^2  The following is a fair compilation of the testimony of the three grand-jury commissioners on this point:

'* * * it was discussed in the Jury Room (among) we Commissioners that an effort had been made to secure a negro for the Grand Jury * * *.'

'The reason that a negro was not put on this Grand Jury was not because I had not made an effort to secure one * * *.'

'I did not select a negro on this Grand Jury Panel but I tried.'

'As far as I know, there was not a negro on the October, 1947, Term of Grand Jury; I have never seen them in a body. When the information came to me I tried to contact a negro * * *.'

'The reason a negro was not selected was not because we discriminated * * *.'

'If the name of any qualified negro citizen (had) been submitted at that time, who had given his permission and said that he had time to serve, I certainly would have submitted his name along with the 15 other names, if it was somebody that would have been acceptable to me.'

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).