|Katzenbach v. Morgan
247 F. Supp. 196, reversed.
[ Brennan ]
[ Harlan ]
Katzenbach v. Morgan
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, whom MR. JUSTICE STEWART joins, dissenting. [*]
Worthy as its purposes may be thought by many, I do not see how § 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 79 Stat. 439, 42 U.S.C. § 1973b(e) (1964 ed. Supp. I), can be sustained except at the sacrifice of fundamentals in the American constitutional system -- the separation between the legislative and judicial function and the boundaries between federal and state political authority. By the same token, I think that the validity of New York's literacy test, a question which the Court considers only in the context of the federal statute, must be upheld. It will conduce to analytical clarity if I discuss the second issue first.IThe Cardona Case (No. 673).
This case presents a straightforward Equal Protection problem. Appellant, a resident and citizen of New York, sought to register to vote, but was refused registration because she failed to meet the New York English literacy qualification respecting eligibility for the franchise. [n1] She maintained that, although she could not read or write English, she had been born and educated in Puerto Rico, and was literate in Spanish. She alleges that New York's statute requiring satisfaction of an English literacy test is an arbitrary and irrational classification that violates the [p660] Equal Protection Clause, at least as applied to someone who, like herself, is literate in Spanish.
Any analysis of this problem must begin with the established rule of law that the franchise is essentially a matter of state concern, Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162; Lassiter v. Northampton Election Bd., 360 U.S. 45, subject only to the overriding requirements of various federal constitutional provisions dealing with the franchise, e.g., the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-fourth Amendments, [n2] and, as more recently decided, to the general principles of the Fourteenth Amendment. Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533; Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89.
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which alone concerns us here, forbids a State from arbitrarily discriminating among different classes of persons. Of course, it has always been recognized that nearly all legislation involves some sort of classification, and the equal protection test applied by this Court is a narrow one: a state enactment or practice may be struck down under the clause only if it cannot be justified as founded upon a rational and permissible state policy. See, e.g., Powell v. Pennsylvania, 127 U.S. 678; Lindsley v. Natural Carbonic Gas Co., 220 U.S. 61; Walters v. City of St. Louis, 347 U.S. 231.
It is suggested that a different and broader equal protection standard applies in cases where "fundamental liberties and rights are threatened," see ante, p. 655, note 15; dissenting opinion of DOUGLAS, J., in Cardona, post, [p661] pp. 676-677, which would require a State to show a need greater than mere rational policy to justify classifications in this area. No such dual-level test has ever been articulated by this Court, and I do not believe that any such approach is consistent with the purposes of the Equal Protection Clause, with the overwhelming weight of authority, or with well established principles of federalism which underlie the Equal Protection Clause.
Thus, for me, applying the basic equal protection standard, the issue in this case is whether New York has shown that its English language literacy test is reasonably designed to serve a legitimate state interest. I think that it has.
In 1959, in Lassiter v. Northampton Election Bd., supra, this Court dealt with substantially the same question and resolved it unanimously in favor of the legitimacy of a state literacy qualification. There, a North Carolina English literacy test was challenged. We held that there was "wide scope" for State qualifications of this sort. 360 U.S. at 51. Dealing with literacy tests generally, the Court there held:
The ability to read and write . . . has some relation to standards designed to promote intelligent use of the ballot. . . . Literacy and intelligence are obviously not synonymous. Illiterate people may be intelligent voters. Yet, in our society, where newspapers, periodicals, books, and other printed matter canvass and debate campaign issues, a State might conclude that only those who are literate should exercise the franchise. . . . It was said last century in Massachusetts that a literacy test was designed to insure an "independent and intelligent" exercise of the right of suffrage. Stone v. Smith, 159 Mass. 413-414, 34 N.E. 521. North Carolina agrees. We do not sit in judgment on the wisdom of that [p662] policy. We cannot say, however, that it is not an allowable one measured by constitutional standards.
360 U.S. at 51-53.
I believe the same interests recounted in Lassiter indubitably point toward upholding the rationality of the New York voting test. It is true that the issue here is not so simply drawn between literacy per se and illiteracy. Appellant alleges that she is literate in Spanish, and that she studied American history and government in United States Spanish-speaking schools in Puerto Rico. She alleges further that she is
a regular reader of the New York City Spanish language daily newspapers and other periodicals, which . . . provide proportionately more coverage of government and politics than do most English language newspapers,
and that she listens to Spanish language radio broadcasts in New York which provide full treatment of governmental and political news. It is thus maintained that whatever may be the validity of literacy tests per se as a condition of voting, application of such a test to one literate in Spanish, in the context of the large and politically significant Spanish-speaking community in New York, serves no legitimate state interest, and is thus an arbitrary classification that violates the Equal Protection Clause.
Although to be sure there is a difference between a totally illiterate person and one who is literate in a foreign tongue, I do not believe that this added factor vitiates the constitutionality of the New York statute. Accepting appellant's allegations as true, it is nevertheless also true that the range of material available to a resident of New York literate only in Spanish is much more limited than what is available to an English-speaking resident, that the business of national, state, and local government is conducted in English, and that propositions, amendments, and offices for which candidates are running listed on the ballot are likewise in English. It [p633] is also true that most candidates, certainly those campaigning on a national or statewide level, make their speeches in English. New York may justifiably want its voters to be able to understand candidates directly, rather than through possibly imprecise translations or summaries reported in a limited number of Spanish news media. It is noteworthy that the Federal Government requires literacy in English as a prerequisite to naturalization, 66 Stat. 239, 8 U.S.C. § 1423 (1964 ed.), attesting to the national view of its importance as a prerequisite to full integration into the American political community. Relevant too is the fact that the New York English test is not complex, [n3] that it is fairly administered, [n4] [p664] and that New York maintains free adult education classes which appellant and members of her class are encouraged to attend. [n5] Given the State's legitimate concern with promoting and safeguarding the intelligent use of the ballot, and given also New York's long experience with the process of integrating non-English-speaking residents into the mainstream of American life, I do not see how it can be said that this qualification for suffrage is unconstitutional. I would uphold the validity of the New York statute, unless the federal statute prevents that result, the question to which I now turn. [p665]
IIThe Morgan Cases (Nos. 847 and 877);
These cases involve the same New York suffrage restriction discussed above, but the challenge here comes not in the form of a suit to enjoin enforcement of the state statute, but in a test of the constitutionality of a federal enactment which 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.
Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4(e) declares that anyone who has successfully completed six grades of schooling in an "American-flag" school in which the primary language is not English shall not be denied the right to vote because of an inability to satisfy an English literacy test. [n6] Although the statute is framed in general terms, so far as has been shown, it applies in actual effect only to citizens of Puerto Rican background, and the Court so treats it.
The pivotal question in this instance is what effect the added factor of a congressional enactment has on the straight equal protection argument dealt with above. The Court declares that, since § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment [n7] gives to the Congress power to "enforce" [p666] the prohibitions of the Amendment by "appropriate" legislation, the test for judicial review of any congressional determination in this area is simply one of rationality; that is, in effect, was Congress acting rationally in declaring that the New York statute is irrational? Although § 5 most certainly does give to the Congress wide powers in the field of devising remedial legislation to effectuate the Amendment's prohibition on arbitrary state action, Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339, I believe the Court has confused the issue of how much enforcement power Congress possesses under § 5 with the distinct issue of what questions are appropriate for congressional determination and what questions are essentially judicial in nature.
When recognized state violations of federal constitutional standards have occurred, Congress is, of course, empowered by § 5 to take appropriate remedial measures to redress and prevent the wrongs. See Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 310. But it is a judicial question whether the condition with which Congress has thus sought to deal is, in truth, an infringement of the Constitution, something that is the necessary prerequisite to bringing the § 5 power into play at all. Thus, in Ex parte Virginia, supra, involving a federal statute making it a federal crime to disqualify anyone from jury service because of race, the Court first held as a matter of constitutional law that
the Fourteenth Amendment secures, among other civil rights, to colored men, when charged with criminal offences against a State, an impartial jury trial, by jurors indifferently selected or chosen without discrimination against such jurors because of their color.
100 U.S. at 345. Only then did the Court hold that, to enforce this prohibition upon state discrimination, Congress could enact a criminal statute of the type under consideration. See also Clyatt v. United States, 197 U.S. 207 sustaining the constitutionality of the anti-peonage [p667] laws, 14 Stat. 546, now 42 U.S.C. § 1994 (1964 ed.), under the Enforcement Clause of the Thirteenth Amendment.
A more recent Fifteenth Amendment case also serves to illustrate this distinction. In South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301, decided earlier this Term, we held certain remedial sections of this Voting Rights Act of 1965 constitutional under the Fifteenth Amendment, which is directed against deprivations of the right to vote on account of race. In enacting those sections of the Voting Rights Act, the Congress made a detailed investigation of various state practices that had been used to deprive Negroes of the franchise. See 383 U.S. at 308-315. In passing upon the remedial provisions, we reviewed first the "voluminous legislative history," as well as judicial precedents supporting the basic congressional finding that the clear commands of the Fifteenth Amendment had been infringed by various state subterfuges. See 383 U.S. at 309, 329-330, 333-334. Given the existence of the evil, we held the remedial steps taken by the legislature under the Enforcement Clause of the Fifteenth Amendment to be a justifiable exercise of congressional initiative.
Section 4(e), however, presents a significantly different type of congressional enactment. The question here is not whether the statute is appropriate remedial legislation to cure an established violation of a constitutional command, but whether there has, in fact, been an infringement of that constitutional command, that is, whether a particular state practice, or, as here, a statute, is so arbitrary or irrational as to offend the command of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That question is one for the judicial branch ultimately to determine. Were the rule otherwise, Congress would be able to qualify this Court's constitutional decisions under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, [p668] let alone those under other provisions of the Constitution, by resorting to congressional power under the Necessary and Proper Clause. In view of this Court's holding in Lassiter, supra, that an English literacy test is a permissible exercise of state supervision over its franchise, I do not think it is open to Congress to limit the effect of that decision as it has undertaken to do by § 4(e). In effect, the Court reads § 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment as giving Congress the power to define the substantive scope of the Amendment. If that indeed be the true reach of § 5, then I do not see why Congress should not be able as well to exercise its § 5 "discretion" by enacting statutes so as, in effect, to dilute equal protection and due process decisions of this Court. In all such cases, there is room for reasonable men to differ as to whether or not a denial of equal protection or due process has occurred, and the final decision is one of judgment. Until today, this judgment has always been one for the judiciary to resolve.
I do not mean to suggest in what has been said that a legislative judgment of the type incorporated in § 4(e) is without any force whatsoever. Decisions on questions of equal protection and due process are based not on abstract logic, but on empirical foundations. To the extent "legislative facts" are relevant to a judicial determination, Congress is well equipped to investigate them, and such determinations are, of course, entitled to due respect. [n8] In South Carolina v. Katzenbach, supra, such legislative findings were made to show that racial discrimination in voting was actually occurring. Similarly, in Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, 379 U.S. 241, and 379 U.S. 241, and Katzenbach v. McClung, 379 U.S. 294, this Court upheld [p669] Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under the Commerce Clause. There again, the congressional determination that racial discrimination in a clearly defined group of public accommodations did effectively impede interstate commerce was based on "voluminous testimony," 379 U.S. at 253, which had been put before the Congress and in the context of which it passed remedial legislation.
But no such factual data provide a legislative record supporting § 4(e) [n9] by way of showing that Spanish-speaking citizens are fully as capable of making informed decisions in a New York election as are English-speaking citizens. Nor was there any showing whatever to support the Court's alternative argument that § 4(e) should be viewed as but a remedial measure designed to cure or assure against unconstitutional discrimination of other varieties, e.g., in "public schools, public housing and law enforcement," ante p. 652, to which Puerto Rican minorities might be subject in such communities as New York. There is simply no legislative record supporting such hypothesized discrimination of the sort we have hitherto insisted upon when congressional power is brought to bear on constitutionally reserved state concerns. See Heart of Atlanta Motel, supra; South Carolina v. Katzenbach, supra.
Thus, we have here not a matter of giving deference to a congressional estimate, based on its determination of legislative facts, bearing upon the validity vel non of a statute, but rather what can, at most, be called a legislative announcement that Congress believes a state law to entail an unconstitutional deprivation of equal protection. Although this kind of declaration is, of course, [p670] entitled to the most respectful consideration, coming as it does from a concurrent branch and one that is knowledgeable in matters of popular political participation, I do not believe it lessens our responsibility to decide the fundamental issue of whether, in fact, the state enactment violates federal constitutional rights.
In assessing the deference we should give to this kind of congressional expression of policy, it is relevant that the judiciary has always given to congressional enactments a presumption of validity. The Propeller Genesee Chief v. Fitzhugh, 12 How. 443, 457-458. However, it is also a canon of judicial review that state statutes are given a similar presumption, Butler v. Commonwealth, 10 How. 402, 415. Whichever way this case is decided, one statute will be rendered inoperative in whole or in part, and, although it has been suggested that this Court should give somewhat more deference to Congress than to a state legislature, [n10] such a simple weighing of presumptions is hardly a satisfying way of resolving a matter that touches the distribution of state and federal power in an area so sensitive as that of the regulation of the franchise. Rather, it should be recognized that, while the Fourteenth Amendment is a "brooding omnipresence" over all state legislation, the substantive matters which it touches are all within the primary legislative competence of the States. Federal authority, legislative no less than judicial, does not intrude unless there has been a denial by state action of Fourteenth Amendment limitations, in this instance, a denial of equal protection. At least in the area of primary state concern, a state statute that passes constitutional muster under the judicial standard of rationality should not be permitted to be set at naught by a mere contrary congressional [p671] pronouncement unsupported by a legislative record justifying that conclusion.
To deny the effectiveness of this congressional enactment is not, of course, to disparage Congress' exertion of authority in the field of civil rights; it is simply to recognize that the Legislative Branch, like the other branches of federal authority, is subject to the governmental boundaries set by the Constitution. To hold, on this record, that § 4(e) overrides the New York literacy requirement seems to me tantamount to allowing the Fourteenth Amendment to swallow the State's constitutionally ordained primary authority in this field. For if Congress, by what, as here, amounts to mere ipse dixit, can set that otherwise permissible requirement partially at naught, I see no reason why it could not also substitute its judgment for that of the States in other fields of their exclusive primary competence as well.
I would affirm the judgments in each of these cases. [n11]
* [This opinion applies also to Cardona v. Power, post, p. 672.]
1. The pertinent portions of the New York Constitution, Art. II, § 1, and statutory provisions are reproduced in the Court's opinion, ante pp. 644-645, n. 2.
2. The Fifteenth Amendment forbids denial or abridgment of the franchise "on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude"; the Seventeenth deals with popular election of members of the Senate; the Nineteenth provides for equal suffrage for women; the Twenty-fourth outlaws the poll tax as a qualification for participation in federal elections.
3. The test is described in McGovney, The American Suffrage Medley 63 (1949) as follows:
The examination is based upon prose compositions of about ten lines each, prepared by the personnel of the State Department of Education, designed to be of the level of reading in the sixth grade. . . . These are uniform for any single examination throughout the state. The examination is given by school authorities and graded by school superintendents or teachers under careful instructions from the central authority, to secure uniformity of grading as nearly as is possible.
The 1943 test, submitted by the Attorney General of New York as representative, is reproduced below:
NEW YORK STATE REGENTS LITERACY TEST
(To be filled in by the candidate in ink)
Write your name here ______________________________________
First name Middle initial Last name
Write your address here ___________________________________
Write the date here ________________________
Month Day Year
Read this, and then write the answers to the questions
Read it as many times as you need to
The legislative branch of the National Government is called the Congress of the United States. Congress makes the laws of the Nation, Congress is composed of two houses. The upper house is called the Senate, and its members are called Senators. There are 96 Senators in the upper house, two from each State. Each United States Senator is elected for a term of six years. The lower house of Congress is known as the House of Representatives. The number of Representatives from each state is determined by the population of that state. At present, there are 435 members of the House of Representatives. Each Representative is elected for a term of two years. Congress meets in the Capitol at Washington.
The answers to the following questions are to be
taken from the above paragraph
1 How many houses are there in Congress? ___
2 What does Congress do? _____________________
3 What is the lower house of Congress called? _________
4 How many members are there in the lower house? ___
5 How long is the term of office of a United States Senator? ___
6 How many Senators are there from each state? ___
7 For how long a period are members of the House of Representatives elected? ___
8 In what city does Congress meet? _________
4. There is no allegation of discriminatory enforcement, and the method of examination, see n. 3, supra, makes unequal application virtually impossible. McGovney has noted, op. cit. supra at 62, that
New York is the only state in the Union that both has a reasonable reading requirement and administers it in a manner that secures uniformity of application throughout the state and precludes discrimination, so far as is humanly possible.
See Camacho v. Rogers, 199 F.Supp. 155, 159-160.
5. See McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Ann., Education Law § 4605. See generally Handbook of Adult Education in the United States 455-465 (Knowles ed.1960).
6. The statute makes an exception to its sixth-grade rule so that, where state law "provides that a different level of education is presumptive of literacy," the applicant must show that he has completed "an equivalent level of education" in the foreign language United States school.
7. Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment states that "The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."
8. See generally Karst, Legislative Facts in Constitutional Litigation, 1960 The Supreme Court Review 75 (Kurland ed.); Alfange, The Relevance of Legislative Facts in Constitutional Law, 114 U.Pa.L.Rev. 637 (1966).
9. There were no committee hearings or reports referring to this section, which was introduced from the floor during debate on the full Voting Rights Act. See 111 Cong.Rec. 11027, 15666, 16234.
10. See Thayer, The Origin and Scope of the American Doctrine of Constitutional Law, 7 Harv.L.Rev. 129, 154-155 (1893).
11. A number of other arguments have been suggested to sustain the constitutionality of § 4(e). These are referred to in the Court's opinion, ante pp. 646-647, n. 5. Since all of such arguments are rendered superfluous by the Court's decision, and none of them is considered by the majority, I deem it unnecessary to deal with them save to say that, in my opinion, none of those contentions provides an adequate constitutional basis for sustaining the statute.