White v. Crook

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251 F. Supp. 401 (M.D. Alabama 1966)

Before Rives, Circuit Judge, and Allgood and Johnson, District Judges.


This action was instituted as a class action by male and female residents of Lowndes County, Alabama, against the individual members of the jury commission of Lowndes County, Alabama. Subsequently, the plaintiffs amended by adding as defendants other officials of Lowndes County and the State of Alabama, who, according to the amended complaint, performed certain functions in connection with the jury selection and jury use in Lowndes County, Alabama. By the complaint as amended, plaintiffs alleged that the defendants have systematically excluded Negro male citizens and female citizens of both races from jury service in Lowndes County, Alabama. Because of the challenge to the Alabama statute which totally excludes women from jury service, a three-judge district court was designated and convened, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2281, 2284, to try this case. Subsequently, the United States moved for leave to intervene pursuant to § 902 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; this motion was based upon a complaint in intervention and a certification by the Attorney General of the United States that, in his judgment, this case was of general importance.

The plaintiffs, male and female Negro citizens and residents of Lowndes County, Alabama, seek of the defendants, through this Court, as provided under the Constitution and laws of the United States, injunctive relief to remedy alleged conduct of the defendants (including the denial to the plaintiffs of the equal protection of the laws on account of race or color) in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. The plaintiffs bring this action in their own behalf and on behalf of others similarly situated, pursuant to Rule 23(a)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The plaintiff-intervenor is the United States of America; its standing to intervene is established by 42 U.S.C. § 2000h-2 and by Rule 24(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The defendants are the members and clerk of the jury commission of Lowndes County, Alabama; the judge for the Second Judicial Circuit of Alabama, which includes Lowndes County; the probate judge and the sheriff of Lowndes County; the solicitor and the clerk of the Second Judicial Circuit of Alabama, which includes Lowndes County; the foreman of the grand jury of Lowndes County; and the solicitor of Lowndes County.

The procedure for the selection of jurors in Alabama is controlled by statute. Each county in Alabama has a jury commission composed of three members appointed by the Governor. These commissioners, in order to be qualified, must be electors of the county, reputed for their fairness, impartiality, integrity and good judgment; the commissioners so appointed serve for the tenure of the Governor who appoints them. The jury commissioners are required to place on the jury roll "the names of all male citizens of the county who are generally reputed to be honest and intelligent men and are esteemed in the community for their integrity, good character and sound judgment." The clerk of the jury commission is required by law to "obtain the name of every male citizen of the county over twenty-one and under sixty-five years of age and their occupation, place of residence and place of business * * *." The jury commission is required to maintain a jury roll containing the name of "every male citizen living in the county who possessed the qualifications herein prescribed and who is not exempted by law from serving on juries." As a part of the procedural requirements the names of the persons on the jury roll must also be printed on separate cards, which are placed in a jury box. It is the duty of the commission to see that the name of each person possessing the qualifications to serve as a juror and not exempted by law from jury duty "is placed on the jury roll and in the jury box." The Alabama law [*404] further requires the jury commission and its clerk to scan the registration lists, the list returned to the tax assessor, any city directories and telephone directories, and any and every other source of information, and to visit every precinct in the county at least once a year.

When jurors are required for a court session, the presiding judge draws from the jury box the names of the individuals to serve as jurors during the term in question. These jurors may be either petit jurors or grand jurors as the situation requires. The names so drawn are sent to the clerk of the court, and the clerk prepares a venire; the venire containing these names is sent to the sheriff who summons the persons listed to appear and serve. The presiding judge has the authority to pass upon claims for exemptions, excuses and qualifications of those individuals who have been summoned to appear and serve as jurors. Either party in civil and criminal cases has a right to examine jurors as to their qualifications, interests, or any bias that would affect the trial of the case. In civil actions each party has a certain number of preemptory challenges, and in criminal cases the struck jury method is the exclusive means of selecting juries.

The 1960 census reflects that the total population of Lowndes County was 15,417 and that Negroes comprised 80.7% of the total county population and 72.0% of the adult male population. The white males between the ages of 21 to 65 totaled 738, and the nonwhite males between the ages of 21 to 65 totaled 1,798. The white females between the ages of 21 to 65 totaled 789, and the nonwhite females between the ages of 21 to 65 totaled 2,278. 11 The evidence in this case reflects that before each term of court the presiding judge of the Second Judicial Circuit would draw at random from the jury box a sufficient number of cards (usually 110) to provide jurors for the next term of court to be conducted in Lowndes County. When the number of cards in the jury box became depleted to the extent that the judge could not make a complete draw, he notified the clerk of the jury commission, who informed the commissioners that the box required refilling. At times the jury commissioners refilled the box or added names on their own initiative; when they filled the jury box, they would put approximately 250 names in it. The testimony reflected that the judge found it necessary to suggest that the jury box be refilled "probably once a year." The Lowndes County jury commissioners, in selecting persons they considered to be qualified for jury service, used as their primary source the Lowndes County voting lists on which no Negroes were named. The other source (personal knowledge) accounted for the names of seven Negroes listed on the Lowndes County jury roll in the twelve-year period from 1953 until this action was commenced. From 1953 to the time this suit was instituted, Negroes comprised little more than 1% of the persons selected by the commissioners as eligible and qualified for jury service in Lowndes County, Alabama. There was no conflict in the evidence to the effect that there were a substantial number of Negro citizens residing in Lowndes County who were qualified for jury services under Alabama law. As a matter of fact, it was stipulated between counsel that there were qualified Negroes in Lowndes County whose names had not been placed on the jury rolls or in the jury box by the jury commission. The actual procedure followed by the jury commission of Lowndes County, Alabama, in replenishing the jury box was for the commission to borrow the qualified voter list from the county probate judge, to meet, and during the course of the meeting have one of the commissioners read the names of all males on the qualified voter list, most of whom were known to one or more of the commissioners. As the list was read, the persons whose names appeared thereon were either summarily approved or rejected as prospective jurors. Discussion of the qualifications was generally unnecessary.

It is especially significant that there were no Negroes registered to vote in Lowndes County prior to March 1, 1965; the voting lists for Lowndes County, Alabama, during this time included the names of approximately 1200 white male citizens. Thus, no Negroes' names appeared on the jury commissioners' primary source for finding and selecting prospective jurors.

In addition to the above procedure, which resulted, in the opinion of this Court, in an extremely aggravated case of systematic exclusion by reason of race, the commissioners followed a procedure which restricted the number of qualified white persons whose names were placed in the jury box. An analysis of the jury records as offered and received in evidence in this case reflects that a very limited number of persons has constituted the core of the county jury system in Lowndes County, Alabama, and that the names of this extremely limited group have been repeatedly circulated through the jury box. As a matter of fact, the names of only 670 persons have been on cards in the box since 1953. Of these 670 individuals, 211 have had their names in the box six or more times, and some as many as fifteen or sixteen times. These 211 persons collectively account for 66.5% of the total of 2,748 names, including repeats that have appeared on the venire lists in Lowndes County, Alabama, from 1953 to the present time. Fifty-seven of these persons were called for jury service three successive terms. Seven of them were called for jury service four successive terms.

The procedures as outlined above, adopted and followed by the jury commissioners in Lowndes County, Alabama, since 1953, have resulted in jury service in that county being limited to a small number of adult, white male citizens, with Negro male citizens and female citizens of both races being systematically excluded either by practice or, in the case of the women, by statute.

Unconstitutional jury selection methods are usually brought before courts prior to trial in order to quash a particular panel or venire in a particular case. This case is one of the first civil actions brought to remedy systematic exclusion of Negroes from jury service generally. There is no question that under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 these male plaintiffs under the evidence in this case are entitled to the relief they seek and are entitled to have the defendants adopt procedures that will ensure that they and all other qualified members of their class in Lowndes County, Alabama, serve on juries.


As stated earlier in this opinion, jury service on the part of the citizens of the United States is considered under our law in this country as one of the basic rights and obligations of citizenship. The women plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and other women similarly situated contend very forcefully that the Alabama statute that bars their exercise of this basic right is unconstitutional. This attack on Alabama's complete exclusion of women from jury service is based on the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The argument that the Fourteenth Amendment was not historically intended to require the states to make women eligible for jury service reflects a misconception of the function of the Constitution and this Court's obligation in interpreting it. The Constitution of the United States must be read as embodying general principles meant to govern society and the institutions of government as they evolve through time. It is therefore this Court's function to apply the Constitution as a living document to the legal cases and controversies of contemporary society. When such an application to the facts in this case is made, the conclusion is inescapable that the complete exclusion of women from jury service in Alabama is arbitrary.

Jury service is a form of participation in the processes of government, a responsibility and a right that should be shared by all citizens, regardless of sex. The Alabama statute that denies women the right to serve on juries in the State of Alabama therefore violates that provision of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States that forbids any state to "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The plain effect of this constitutional provision is to prohibit prejudicial disparities before the law. This means prejudicial disparities for all citizens - including women.

Women are allowed to serve on juries in the federal courts and in the courts of forty-seven states. Only in three - Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina - are women completely excluded from jury service. The time must come when a state's complete exclusion of women from jury service is recognized as so arbitrary and unreasonable as to be unconstitutional. As to Alabama, we can see no reason for not recognizing that fact at the present time.