United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299; 61 S. Ct. 1031; 85 L. Ed. 1368 (1941)

Facts—In Louisiana, a primary election to nominate a party candidate for representative in Congress was conducted at public expense and regulated by state statute. Candidates to be voted on in the general election were restricted to primary nominees, to persons, not candidates in the primary, who filed nomination papers with the requisite number of signatures, and to persons whose names might lawfully be written on the ballot by the electors. Some of the votes of qualified voters were deliberately changed for the benefit of a different candidate. Classic, a commissioner of elections, was convicted under the Federal Criminal Code, which prohibits interference with constitutional rights.

Question—Are primary elections subject to congressional regulation?


ReasonsJ. Stone (5–3). Although the state government has the power to regulate these primary elections, Congress still has the duty to see that the integrity of these elections is maintained. The state had made these primary elections an integral part of the act of choosing one’s representative. Thus it would fall under the meaning of elections of Article I, Sections 2 and 4 of the Constitution. “The right to participate in the choice of representatives for Congress includes, as we have said, the right to cast a ballot and to have it counted at the general election whether for the successful candidate or not. Where the state law has made the primary an integral part of the procedure of choice or where in fact the primary effectively controls the choice, the right of the elector to have his ballot counted at the primary, is likewise included in the right protected by Article I, Section 2.”

J. Douglas’s dissent viewed the government’s attempt to regulate primary elections as an attempt to enforce federal common law principles.

Note—This decision overruled Newberry v. United States (1921) and Grovey

v. Townsend (1935) and led to Smith v. Allwright (1944).

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