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Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse
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Case Name United States v. James Griggs Raines VR-GA-0167
Docket / Court Civ. A. No. 442 ( M.D. Ga. )
State/Territory Georgia
Case Type(s) Election/Voting Rights
Special Collection Civil Rights Division Archival Collection
Attorney Organization U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Case Summary
In this case brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the United States alleged that the Registrars of Terrell County, GA purposefully delayed and arbitrarily denied Black voters' registrations in order to maintain racial disparity among registered voters in the county. Led by Charles Bloch, one ... read more >
In this case brought under the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the United States alleged that the Registrars of Terrell County, GA purposefully delayed and arbitrarily denied Black voters' registrations in order to maintain racial disparity among registered voters in the county. Led by Charles Bloch, one of the leading segregationist attorneys of the era, defendants used this case to challenge the constitutionality of part of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Eventually it reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the statute.

The case was filed in the Middle District of Georgia on September 4, 1958 and assigned to Chief Judge Thomas Davis. Defendants were charged with accepting and executing voter registrations for qualified citizens in the county. The United States' complaint identified at least twelve instances where Black applicants were delayed as much as 17 months, when white applicants in the same timeframe had their applications processed within two weeks. The complaint further alleged that this was purposefully done not only to delay and discourage voter registrations but also to subject Black applicants to a more-stringent literacy test that was enacted in Georgia in March 1958. The complaint furthermore identified five college-educated Black citizens who were denied voting registration for failing to pass the literacy test, despite their educational pedigrees' clearly suggesting that they could read and write.

Shortly after the case was filed, all defendants filed a motion to dismiss. The motion argued four main points, three of which were quickly disposed of by the District Court: that the case could not be sustained as it sounded neither in law (because it sought injunctive relief) nor in equity (because the U.S. had not exhausted all other available remedies); that Congress had no authority to authorize the Attorney General to file this voting rights suit; and that the court should dismiss the case of its own equitable discretion. The court found that none of these arguments had merit.

However, the court did find unconstitutional the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the statute authorizing the Attorney General to bring this suit. The court adopted the defendants' argument that because the statute could be read to authorize suits not only against individuals in their public capacity as government actors but against individuals in their private capacity as citizens, that the subsection was itself unconstitutional. Therefore, due to lack of statutory authorization, the District Court dismissed the complaint. 172 F.Supp. 552 (1959).

Because the district court had found a federal statute unconstitutional, under the operative jurisdictional statute in the 1950s, the United States was allowed to appeal directly to the Supreme Court. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Brennan, the Supreme Court reversed the District Court's holding. Just because there were conceivable instances where a statute could be applied in a potentially unconstitutional manner did not make that statute facially unconstitutional, the Supreme Court held. In addition, the Court held that Congress had constitutional authority to allow the United States an action in support of private constitutional rights. It declined to address the scope of an appropriate injunction, because that would be assessed by the district court on remand. 362 U.S. 17 (1960).

The Supreme Court remanded the case, and after a five-day trial, Judge William Bootle of the Middle District of Georgia entered an opinion stating forty-two findings of fact that established both that the individuals identified in the complaint were improperly denied voting registration and that Terrell County maintained practices that were intentionally and systematically discriminatory. The court furthermore entered an injunction that the county must register certain individuals identified in the lawsuit as being wrongfully deprived of their right to vote, in addition to stopping the practices, such as heightened standards for Black applicants and administrative delays, that precipitated the deprivation. While the court maintained jurisdiction over the case and its injunction, it stopped short of declaring that the deprivations had been "pursuant to a pattern or practice," which would have triggered greater court oversight under the Civil Rights Act of 1957, including giving citizens the right to petition directly to the court for voter registration. 189 F.Supp. 121 (1960).

The United States subsequently filed a separate motion asking the court to so declare that the deprivations had occurred "pursuant to a pattern or practice." However, the court declined to do so, giving Terrell County the benefit of the presumption that it would follow the court's order. 203 F.Supp. 147 (1961).

Unfortunately, history shows that it did not, the county gaining the nickname "Terrible Terrell" among civil rights activists. We don't have a docket, but presumably this case is ended; the issues it raised were soon preempted by the more comprehensive Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Sean Drohan - 07/07/2021

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Race discrimination
Voting access
Plaintiff Type
U.S. Dept of Justice plaintiff
Voter qualifications
Voter registration rules
Causes of Action Civil Rights Act of 1957/1960, 52 U.S.C. § 10101 (previously 42 U.S.C. § 1971)
Defendant(s) Registrars of Terrell County, GA
Plaintiff Description The United States of America
Indexed Lawyer Organizations U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Order Duration 1960 - n/a
Filed 09/04/1958
Case Closing Year 1961
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  United States v. Raines
Date: Feb. 29, 1960
By: Oyez
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
M.D. Ga.
Complaint [ECF# 1]
VR-GA-0167-0001.pdf | Detail
Source: Papers of David Norman
M.D. Ga.
Opinion of the Court (172 F.Supp. 552)
VR-GA-0167-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
U.S. Supreme Court
Opinion (362 U.S. 17)
VR-GA-0167-0003.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
M.D. Ga.
Opinion (189 F.Supp. 121)
VR-GA-0167-0004.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
M.D. Ga.
Opinon (203 F.Supp. 147)
VR-GA-0167-0005.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
show all people docs
Judges Bootle, William Augustus (M.D. Ga.) show/hide docs
VR-GA-0167-0004 | VR-GA-0167-0005
Brennan, William Joseph Jr. (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Davis, Thomas Hoyt (M.D. Ga.) show/hide docs
Frankfurter, Felix (SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Harlan, John Marshall (Second Circuit, SCOTUS) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Evans, Frank O. (Georgia) show/hide docs
White, W. Wilson (District of Columbia) show/hide docs

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