MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The United States by the Attorney General brought this action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Jackson Division, against the State of Mississippi, the three members of the Mississippi State Board of Election Commissioners, and six county Registrars of Voters. The complaint charged that the defendants and their agents had engaged and, unless restrained, would continue to engage in acts and practices hampering and destroying the right of Negro citizens of Mississippi to vote, in violation of 42 U. S. C. § 1971 (a) (1958 ed.), and of the Fourteenth
The basic issue before us in this case is whether the dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted was proper. The United States alleges that in 1890 a majority of the qualified voters in Mississippi were Negroes, but that in that year a constitutional convention adopted a new state constitution, one of the chief purposes of which was, in the words of the complaint, to "restrict the Negro franchise and to establish and perpetuate white political supremacy and racial segregation
By the 1950's a much higher proportion of Negroes of voting age in Mississippi was literate than had been the case in 1890, and since a decision of the Fifth Circuit in 1951
In 1960 the state constitution was amended to add a new voting qualification of "good moral character,"
By way of relief the court was asked (1) to declare the challenged state laws unconstitutional as violations of federal constitutional provisions and statutes; (2) to find that by these laws Negroes had been denied the right to vote pursuant to a "pattern and practice" of racial discrimination;
It is apparent that the complaint which the majority of the District Court dismissed charged a long-standing, carefully prepared, and faithfully observed plan to bar Negroes from voting in the State of Mississippi, a plan which the registration statistics included in the complaint
One ground upon which the majority of the District Court dismissed the Government's complaint was that the United States is without authority, absent the clearest possible congressional authorization, to bring an action like this one which challenges the validity of state laws allegedly used as devices to keep Negroes from voting on account of their race. We need not discuss the power of the United States to bring such an action without authorization by Congress, for in 42 U. S. C. § 1971 (1958 ed.) there is express congressional authorization for the United States to file a suit precisely of this kind. Section 1971 (a) guarantees the right of citizens "who are otherwise qualified by law to vote at any election" to be allowed to vote "without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; any constitution, law, custom, usage, or regulation of any State or Territory, or by or under its authority, to the contrary notwithstanding."
The District Court held, and it is contended here, that even if the Attorney General did have power to file this suit on behalf of the United States, as we have held he did, nevertheless he was without power to make the State a party defendant. The District Court gave great weight to Mississippi's argument that the Fifteenth Amendment "is directed to persons through whom a state may act and not to the sovereign entity of the state itself." 229 F. Supp., at 933. Largely to avoid what it called this "substantial constitutional claim," the District Court proceeded to construe the language of § 1971 as not granting
Section 1971 (c) says that whenever the Attorney General institutes a suit under this section against a state official who has deprived a citizen of his right to vote because of race or color,
The District Court accepted the State's argument that this meant that a State can be made a defendant in such a case only when the office of registrar is vacant, so that there is no registrar against whom to file suit. This argument relies on the fact that in a case pending in this Court when the statutory language was changed, registrars had resigned their offices in order to keep from being sued under § 1971. United States v. Alabama, 267 F.2d 808 (C. A. 5th Cir.), vacated and remanded, 362 U.S. 602. Congress, the State says, passed the provision authorizing suit against a State solely to provide a party defendant when registrars resigned, as they had in the Alabama case. But whatever the reasons Congress had for amending § 1971 (c), and without our now deciding whether it was necessary to do so to permit the United States to sue a State under that section, the language Congress adopted leaves no room for the construction which the District Court put on these provisions. Indeed, on remand in the Alabama case the Fifth Circuit affirmed the District Court's refusal to dismiss the State as a defendant even though new registrars had qualified, and this Court affirmed that judgment. Alabama v. United States, 371 U.S. 37, affirming 304 F.2d 583 (C. A. 5th Cir.).
The District Court held with respect to the three members of the Mississippi Board of Election Commissioners that the complaint failed to show that they had a sufficient interest in administering or enforcing the laws under attack to permit making them parties defendant. We do not agree. Under state law the Election Commissioners have power, authority, and responsibility to help administer the voter registration laws by formulating rules for the various tests applied to applicants for registration. Section 3209.6 of the Mississippi Code directs that the forms and the questions on the forms shall be prepared and maintained under the supervision of the Election Board and that these application forms shall be
The District Court said that the complaint improperly attempted to hold the six county registrars jointly liable for what amounted to nothing more than individual torts committed by them separately with reference to separate applicants. For this reason apparently it would have held the venue improper as to the three registrars who lived outside the Southern District of Mississippi and a fourth who lived in a different division of the Southern District, and it would have ordered that each of the other two registrars be sued alone. But the complaint charged that the registrars had acted and were continuing to act as part of a state-wide system designed to enforce the registration laws in a way that would inevitably deprive colored people of the right to vote solely because of their color. On such an allegation the joinder of all the registrars as defendants in a single suit is authorized by Rule 20 (a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides:
As a general ground for dismissal, the District Court held that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In considering the correctness of this ruling the allegations of the complaint are to be taken as true, and indeed the record contains answers to pretrial interrogatories which indicate that the United States stands ready to produce much evidence tending to prove the truthfulness of all the allegations in the complaint. While the Government has argued that several provisions of the Mississippi laws challenged here might or should be held unconstitutional on their face without introduction of evidence or further hearings, with respect to all the others the Solicitor General in this Court specifically has declined to "urge that the constitutionality of these provisions be decided prior to trial." In this situation we have decided that it is the more appropriate course to pass only upon the sufficiency of the complaint's allegations to justify relief if proved.
We have no doubt whatsoever that it was error to dismiss the complaint without a trial. The complaint charged that the State of Mississippi and its officials for the past three quarters of a century have been writing and adopting constitutional provisions, statutes, rules, and regulations, and have been engaging in discriminatory practices, all designed to keep the number of white voters at the highest possible figure and the number of colored voters at the lowest. It alleged that the common purpose
The success of the expedients adopted in 1890 and in later years to accomplish this purpose appears from statistics in the complaint. For example, the complaint states that at the time the suit was filed Amite County, Mississippi, the registrar of which was one of the defendants here, had a white voting age population of 4,449 with white registration of 3,295, while it had 2,560 colored persons of voting age, of whom only one was a registered voter. There is no need to multiply examples. The allegations of this complaint were too serious, the right to vote in this country is too precious, and the necessity of settling grievances peacefully in the courts is too important for this complaint to have been dismissed. Compare Davis v. Schnell, 81 F.Supp. 872 (D. C. S. D. Ala.), aff'd, 336 U.S. 933; Louisiana v. United States, post, p. 145, this day decided. The case should have been tried. It should now be tried without delay.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN considers that the constitutional conclusions reached in this opinion can properly be based only on the provisions of the Fifteenth Amendment. In all other respects, he fully subscribes to this opinion.
"SECTION 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
"SECTION 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
"SECTION 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
"On and after the first day of January, A. D., 1892, every elector shall, in addition to the foregoing qualifications, be able to read any section of the constitution of this State; or he shall be able to understand the same when read to him, or give a reasonable interpretation thereof. A new registration shall be made before the next ensuing election after January the first, A. D., 1892."
"Every elector shall, in addition to the foregoing qualifications be able to read and write any section of the Constitution of this State and give a reasonable interpretation thereof to the county registrar. He shall demonstrate to the county registrar a reasonable understanding of the duties and obligations of citizenship under a constitutional form of government. . . ."
"In addition to all other qualifications required of a person to be entitled to register for the purpose of becoming a qualified elector, such person shall be of good moral character.
"The Legislature shall have the power to enforce the provisions of this section by appropriate legislation."
"Whenever any person has engaged or there are reasonable grounds to believe that any person is about to engage in any act or practice which would deprive any other person of any right or privilege secured by subsection (a) or (b) of this section, the Attorney General may institute for the United States, or in the name of the United States, a civil action or other proper proceeding for preventive relief, including an application for a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order. In any proceeding hereunder the United States shall be liable for costs the same as a private person.
"Whenever, in a proceeding instituted under this subsection any official of a State or subdivision thereof is alleged to have committed any act or practice constituting a deprivation of any right or privilege secured by subsection (a) of this section, the act or practice shall also be deemed that of the State and the State may be joined as a party defendant and, if, prior to the institution of such proceeding, such official has resigned or has been relieved of his office and no successor has assumed such office, the proceeding may be instituted against the State."