Smith v. Allwright

United States Supreme Court decision with regard to voting rights and racial desegregation

Smith v. Allwright (1944), was a landmark decision by the United States Supreme Court.[1] The decision made it unconstitutional to keep African Americans from voting in a Democratic Party primary in Texas.[2] By extension it covered white primaries in all states. It overturned Grovey v. Townsend (1935) which had allowed the Democratic party to hold all-white primaries that excluded black voters.

Smith v. Allwright
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Reargued January 12, 1944
Decided April 3, 1944
Full case nameSmith v. Allwright, Election Judge, et al.
Citations321 U.S. 649 (more)
Primary elections must be open to voters of all races.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Harlan F. Stone
Associate Justices
Owen J. Roberts · Hugo Black
Stanley F. Reed · Felix Frankfurter
William O. Douglas · Frank Murphy
Robert H. Jackson · Wiley B. Rutledge
Case opinions
MajorityReed, joined by Stone, Black, Douglas, Murphy, Jackson, Rutledge
ConcurrenceFrankfurter (in the judgment of the court only)

The all-white primaryEdit

The Reconstruction Amendments to the United States Constitution gave African Americans freedom from slavery, citizenship and the right to vote.[3] But many former slave states came up with ways to keep blacks from voting. These included poll taxes, literacy tests and complex voter registration laws.[4] While these worked in most southern states, it did not work in Texas.[4] The party needed the Hispanic vote but wanted to exclude blacks. They needed also to split the black and hispanic vote. Texas, like most southern states, was a one-party state. The Democratic party controlled politics. The state and local primary elections decided which candidate would ultimately win office in the general election.[2] Democrats in Texas used the "white primary" to serve their purposes.[2] It prohibited non-whites from joining the Democratic party and taking part in primary elections.[2] It could be used also to exclude Mexican Americans in areas of the state where the party did not need them.[2] The Reconstruction Amendments applied to the state. But in Grovey v. Townsend the state of Texas was allowed to pass on its responsibility for protecting black voter rights to a private organization—the Democratic party.[5] This allowed Texas to use the all-white primary.

The caseEdit

In another decision, Grovey v. Townsend (1935), the Supreme Court decided that the Democratic Party was a private organization. Their state convention could decide who can be a member. Lonnie E. Smith, a Houston dentist, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) decided to fight this decision.[4]

In Smith v. Allwright (1944), the court overturned the Grovey ruling.[2] A majority of the justices decided that the Democratic party was more than a private organization. It was a part of the election process in Texas. For this reason the court said that it was unconstitutional to stop African Americans from voting in the Democratic primary.[2]


  1. "Landmark: Smith v. Allwright". NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 "Smith vs. Allwright: white primaries". The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  3. "Landmark Legislation: Thirteenth, Fourteenth, & Fifteenth Amendments". The United States Senate. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Robert V. Haynes, 'The Battle for the Black Ballot: Smith v. Allwright and the Defeat of the Texas All-White Primary', The Journal of Southern History (2005) HighBeam Research. (April 23, 2015).
  5. Mark V. Tushnet, Making Civil Rights Law: Thurgood Marshall and the Supreme Court, 1936-1961 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 102,

Other websitesEdit