1927 March 7

Texas White Primary Held Unconstitutional (For a While, Anyway)


Nixon v. Herndon, decided on this day, was an early civil rights case in which the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a 1902 Texas law that barred African-Americans from voting in Democratic Party primary elections. While a great victory, it was short-lived. Texas evaded the decision by making the Democratic Party a private entity, responsible for its own primaries, thereby eliminating the element of state action.

Seventeen years later the Supreme Court struck down the new Texas primary procedure as unconstitutional, in Smith v. Allwright, decided on April 3, 1944.

The right of African-Americans to vote throughout the south was secured (although not completely) with the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on August 6, 1965.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “We find it unnecessary to consider the Fifteenth Amendment, because it seems to us hard to imagine a more direct and obvious infringement of the Fourteenth. That Amendment, while it applies to all, was passed, as we know, with a special intent to protect the blacks from discrimination against them.”

Learn more about the history of the Texas white primary: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/wdw01

And more about the white primary: http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.law.054

Read: Charles Zelden, The Battle for the Black Ballot: Smith v. Allwright and the Defeat of the Texas All-White Primary (2004)

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