Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1 (1944)

Contents:
Author: Justice Frankfurter

Show Summary

Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1 (1944)

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER, concurring.

The plaintiff brought this action in a district court to recover damages claimed to have been suffered at the hands of the defendants as members of the State Primary Canvassing Board of Illinois. The theory of his claim is that the defendants, being in legal effect the Illinois, denied to the plaintiff the equal protection of its laws.

The crucial allegations charging such a denial are in the following paragraph of the complaint:

11. That, notwithstanding the clear and plain mandates of section 454 and section 456, chapter 46, Illinois Revised Statutes, the defendants Edward J. Hughes and Louie E. Lewis, and the decedent Henry Horner, acting as the State Primary Canvassing Board of Illinois, entered into an understanding and agreement and combined, conspired, and confederated together to willfully, maliciously, and arbitrarily refuse to designate plaintiff as one of the nominees of the Republican Party for the office of Representative in the General Assembly from the Third Senatorial District of Illinois, and to issue their Official Proclamation designating plaintiff as one of the said nominees, and to file their proper and correct certificate in the office of the Secretary of Illinois showing that plaintiff was one of the nominees of the Republican Party for the Office of Representative in the General Assembly from the Third Senatorial District of Illinois.

I should be silent were the Court merely to hold that, as a matter of pleading, these allegations are not sufficiently explicit to charge as an arbitrary act of discrimination the concerted and purposeful use by the defendants of their official authority over the election machinery of the State so as to withhold from the plaintiff the opportunity to present himself to the voters of that State "as one of the nominees of the Republican Party" for election to the General Assembly of Illinois. I should be silent even though it were avowed that such a constrained reading of the complaint reflected the most exacting attitude against drawing into the federal courts controversies over state elections. Unless I mistake the tenor of the Court’s opinion, the decision is broader than mere inadequacy of pleading.

All questions pertaining to the political arrangements of state governments are, no doubt, peculiarly outside the domain of federal authority. The disposition of state offices, the manner in which they should be filled, and contests concerning them, are solely for state determination, always provided that the equality of treatment required by the Civil War Amendments is respected. And so I appreciate that there are strong considerations of policy which should make federal courts inhospitable toward litigation involving the enforcement of state election laws. But I do not think that the criteria for establishing a denial of the equal protection of the laws are any different in cases of discrimination in granting opportunities for presenting oneself as a candidate for office "as one of the nominees of the Republican Party" than those that are relevant when claim is made that a state has discriminated in regulating the pursuit of a private calling. It appears extremely unlikely that the plaintiff could establish his case. The sole question now is whether, assuming he can make good his allegations, he should be denied the opportunity of a trial to do so.

The Constitution does not assure uniformity of decisions or immunity from merely erroneous action, whether by the courts or the executive agencies of a state. See McGovern v. New York, 229 U.S. 363, 370-371. However, in forbidding a state to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," the Fourteenth Amendment does not permit a state to deny the equal protection of its laws because such denial is not wholesale. The talk in some of the cases about systematic discrimination is only a way of indicating that, in order to give rise to a constitutional grievance, a departure from a norm must be rooted in design, and not derived merely from error or fallible judgment. Speaking of a situation in which conscious discrimination by a state touches "the plaintiff alone," this Court tersely expressed the governing principle by observing that "we suppose that no one would contend that the plaintiff was given the equal protection of the laws." McFarland v. American Sugar Refining Co., 241 U.S. 79, 86-87. And if the highest court of a state should candidly deny to one litigant a rule of law which it concededly would apply to all other litigants in similar situations, could it escape condemnation as an unjust discrimination, and therefore a denial of the equal protection of the laws? See Backus v. Fort St. Union Depot Co., 169 U.S. 557, 571.

But, to constitute such unjust discrimination, the action must be that of the state. Since the state, for present purposes, can only act through functionaries, the question naturally arises what functionaries, acting under what circumstances, are to be deemed the state for purposes of bringing suit in the federal courts on the basis of illegal state action. The problem is beset with inherent difficulties, and, not unnaturally, has had a fluctuating history in the decisions of the Court. Compare Barney v. New York, 193 U.S. 430, with Raymond v. Chicago Union Traction Co., 207 U.S. 20, Memphis v. Cumberland Tel. & Tel. Co., 218 U.S. 624, with Home Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Los Angeles, 227 U.S. 278. It is not to be resolved by abstract considerations such as the fact that every official who purports to wield power conferred by a state is, pro tanto, the state. Otherwise, every illegal discrimination by a policeman on the beat would be state action for purpose of suit in a federal court.

Our question is not whether a remedy is available for such an illegality, but whether it is available in the first instance in a federal court. Such a problem of federal judicial control must be placed in the historic context of the relationship of the federal courts to the states, with due regard for the natural sensitiveness of the states and for the appropriate responsibility of state courts to correct the action of lower state courts and state officials. See, e.g., Ex parte Royall, 117 U.S. 241, 251. Take the present case. The plaintiff complains that he has been denied the equal protection of the laws of Illinois precisely because the defendants, constituting the State Canvassing Board, have willfully, with set purpose to withdraw from him the privileges afforded by Illinois, disobeyed those laws. To adapt the language of an earlier opinion, I am unable to grasp the principle on which the State can here be said to deny the plaintiff the equal protection of the laws of the State when the foundation of his claim is that the Board had disobeyed the authentic command of the State. Holmes, J., dissenting, in Raymond v. Chicago Union Traction Co., supra, at p. 41.

I am clear, therefore, that the action of the Canvassing Board taken, as the plaintiff himself acknowledges, in defiance of the duty of that Board under Illinois law, cannot be deemed the action of the State, certainly not until the highest court of the State confirms such action, and thereby makes it the law of the State. I agree, in a word, with the court below that Barney v. City of New York, 193 U.S. 430, is controlling. See Isseks, Jurisdiction of the Lower Federal Courts to Enjoin Unauthorized Action of State Officials, 40 Harv.L.Rev. 969. Neither the wisdom of its reasoning nor its holding has been impaired by subsequent decisions. A different problem is presented when a case comes here on review from a decision of a state court as the ultimate voice of state law. See, for instance, Iowa-Des Moines Nat. Bank v. Bennett, 284 U.S. 239. And the case is wholly unlike Lane v. Wilson, 307 U.S. 268, in which the election officials acted not in defiance of a statute of a state, but under its authority.

Contents:

Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options


Title: Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1 (1944)

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options


Title: Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1 (1944)

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Frankfurter, "Frankfurter, J., Concurring," Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1 (1944) in 321 U.S. 1 321 U.S. 14–321 U.S. 17. Original Sources, accessed October 1, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L17X3FSZZ58BGLN.

MLA: Frankfurter. "Frankfurter, J., Concurring." Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1 (1944), in 321 U.S. 1, pp. 321 U.S. 14–321 U.S. 17. Original Sources. 1 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L17X3FSZZ58BGLN.

Harvard: Frankfurter, 'Frankfurter, J., Concurring' in Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1 (1944). cited in 1944, 321 U.S. 1, pp.321 U.S. 14–321 U.S. 17. Original Sources, retrieved 1 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L17X3FSZZ58BGLN.