norris v alabama majority opinion

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The Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the conviction of one of these, and affirmed that of seven, including Norris. Their testimony was uncontradicted.

determine whether, in truth, a federal right has been denied. 505; Thomas v. Texas, 212 U.S. 278, 282, 283, 29 S.Ct. Among these were negroes who were members of school boards, or trustees, of colored schools, and property owners and householders. Defendant adduced evidence to support the charge of unconstitutional discrimination in the actual administration of the statute in Jackson county. First. 565.". Petitioner, Clarence Norris, is one of nine negro boys who were indicted in March, 1931, in Jackson County, Alabama, for the crime of rape. [Footnote 1] In denying the motion to quash, the trial judge expressed the view that he would not "be authorized to presume that somebody had committed a crime," or to presume that the jury board "had been unfaithful to their duties and allowed the books to be tampered with." He was forced to change his name upon arrival because the stigma of being a Scottsboro Boy was too difficult to live with. We give in the margin quotations from his testimony. In 1930, the total population of Jackson County, where the indictment was found, was 36,881, of whom 2,688 were negroes. The member of the jury board, who testified orally, said that a list was made up which included the names of all male citizens of suitable age; that black residents were not excluded from this general list; that in compiling the jury roll he did not consider race or color; that no one was excluded for that reason; and that he had placed on the jury roll the names of persons possessing the qualifications under the statute. ", "Q. 527. Did you ever say to yourself as a jury commissioner in compiling those lists, I am not going to take that negro because he has been convicted before of a crime involving moral turpitude, have you ever excluded a negro on that ground, did you ever find any negro that came within that category, under your personal knowledge in Jackson County? It also appeared that negroes from that county had been called for jury service in the federal court. Id., p. 58, § 11. A. I couldn't recall any, no, sir, I don't know. 738, 35 L.Ed. That testimony leads to the conclusion that these or other negroes were not excluded on account of age, or lack of esteem in the community for integrity and judgment, or because of disease or want of any other qualification. 512. The clerk of the jury commission and the clerk of the circuit court had never known of a negro serving on a grand jury in Jackson County. One of the latter, who was a member of the commission which made up the jury roll for the grand jury which found the indictment, testified that he had 'never known of a single instance where any negro sat on any grand or petit jury in the entire history of that county.'. If, in the presence of such testimony as defendant adduced, the mere general assertions by officials of their performance of duty were to be accepted as an adequate justification for the complete exclusion of negroes from jury service, the constitutional provision -- adopted with special reference to their protection -- would be but a vain and illusory requirement.

The commissioner's answer to specific inquiry upon this point was that negroes were "never discussed." 567, 574; Gibson v. Mississippi, 162 U.S. 565, 16 S.Ct. In preparing the final jury roll, the preliminary list was checked off as to qualified jurors with the aid of men whom the commissioners called in for that purpose from the different precincts. P. 294 U. S. 589. Several of those who were thus described as qualified were witnesses. The Scottsboro Trial Jury had no African-American members. Third. ", "Q.

2. The trial then proceeded and resulted in the conviction of Norris who was sentenced to death. In Neal v. Delaware, supra, decided over fifty years ago, this Court observed that it was a "violent presumption," in which the state court had there indulged, that the uniform exclusion of negroes from juries, during a period of many years, was solely because, in the judgment of the officers, charged with the selection of grand and petit jurors, fairly exercised, "the black race in Delaware were utterly disqualified by want of intelligence, experience, or moral integrity to sit on juries." ", "Q. Some of these witnesses were over fifty years of age, and had always lived in Morgan, County. In relation to each county, the charge was of long-continued, systematic and arbitrary exclusion of qualified negro citizens from service on juries solely because of their race and color, in violation of the Constitution of the United States. The court reporter, who had not missed a session in that county in twenty-four years, and two jury commissioners testified to the same effect. A clerk of the circuit court, who had resided in the county for thirty years, and who had been in office for over four years, testified that during his official term approximately 2,500 persons had been called for jury service and that not one of them was a negro; that he did not recall 'ever seeing any single person of the colored race serve on any jury in Morgan County.'. Co. v. North Dakota, 236 U. S. 585, 236 U. S. 593; Ward v. Love County, 253 U. S. 17, 253 U. S. 22; Davis v. Wechsler, 263 U. S. 22, 263 U. S. 24; Fiske v. Kansas, 274 U. S. 380, 274 U. S. 385, 274 U. S. 386; Ancient Etian Order v. Michaux, 279 U. S. 737, 279 U. S. 745. That testimony was direct and specific.

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The State joined issue on this charge, and, after hearing the evidence, which we shall presently review, the trial judge denied both motions, and exception was taken. Several cases were brought to the Supreme Court to debate the constitutionality of all-white juries. Prior to this judgment, all-white juries were commonplace and not considered unconstitutional. There was thus presented a test of the practice of the commissioners. While there was testimony which cast doubt upon the qualifications of some of the negroes who had been named, and there was also general testimony by the editor of a local newspaper who gave his opinion as to the lack of 'sound judgment' of the 'good negroes' in Jackson county, we think that the definite testimony as to the actual qualifications of individual negroes, which was not met by any testimony equally direct, showed that there were negroes in Jackson county qualified for jury service.

The qualifications of those who were to be placed on the jury roll were the same as those prescribed by the earlier statute which we have already quoted. Their testimony was not contradicted. If a person cannot read English and has all the other qualifications prescribed herein and is a freeholder or householder, his name may be placed on the jury roll and in the jury box.' On the pages of this roll appeared the names of six negroes. 293 U.S. 552. There is no ground for an assumption that the names of these negroes were not on the preliminary list. The court pointed out that the statute fixed a high standard of qualifications for jurors (Green v. State, 73 Ala. 26; State v. Courts, 210 Ala. l, 97 So. Exclusion of blacks from a grand jury by which an African-American is indicted, or from the petit jury by which he is tried for the offense, resulting from systematic and arbitrary exclusion of blacks from the jury lists solely because of their race or color, is a denial of the equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. 47, p. 55), in force at the time the jury roll in question was made up, the clerk of the jury board was required to obtain the names of all male citizens of the county over twenty-one and under sixty-five years of age, and their occupation, place of residence, and place of business. If, in the presence of such testimony as defendant adduced, the mere general assertions by officials of their performance of duty were to be accepted as in adequate justification for the complete exclusion of negroes from jury service, the constitutional provision—adopted with special reference to their protection—would be but a vain and illusory requirement. The male population over twenty-one years of age numbered 8,801, and of these 666 were negroes. On April 1, 1935, an 8–0 court decision reversed the conviction of Clarence Norris on the grounds that evidence proved that African-Americans were unlawfully excluded from the jury. McReynolds took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. Third. Something more than mere general asseverations was required. Was it because of the lack of statutory qualifications? The testimony of the commissioner on this crucial question puts the case in a strong light. MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS did not hear the argument, and took no part in the consideration and decision of this case. Neal v. Delaware, supra; Carter v. Texas, supra.

The testimony, as the state court said, tended to show that, "in a long number of years, no negro had been called for jury service in that county." No, sir, negroes was never discussed. ", "Q. The Supreme Court of the state did not sustain it. A. And the commissioner testified that in the selections for the jury roll no one was 'automatically or systematically' excluded, or excluded on account of race or color; that he 'did not inquire as to color,' that was not discussed. It appeared that no negro had served on any grand or petit jury in that county within the memory of witnesses who had lived there all their lives.

First. We granted a writ of certiorari. Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U. S. 303; Neal v. Delaware, 103 U. S. 370, 103 U. S. 397; Gibson v. Mississippi, 162 U. S. Mr. Chief Justice HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court. 156 So. It is so sweeping, and so contrary to the evidence as to the many qualified negroes, that it destroys the intended effect of the commissioner's testimony. 839, in relation to exclusion from service on grand juries: 'Whenever by any action of a state, whether through its Legislature, through its courts, or through its executive or administrative officers, all persons of the African race are excluded, solely because of their race or color, from serving as grand jurors in the criminal prosecution of a person of the African race, the equal protection of the laws is denied to him, contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. [1] Norris v. Alabama centered around Clarence Norris, one of the Scottsboro Boys, and his claim that the jury selection had systematically excluded black members due to racial prejudice.[2].

Men of intelligence, some of whom were college graduates, testified to long lists (said to contain nearly 200 names) of such qualified negroes, including many business men, owners of real property and householders. There is no ground for an assumption that the names of these negroes were not on the preliminary list. On being brought to trial in that county, eight were convicted.

The question is of the application of this established principle to the facts disclosed by the record. Several of those who were thus described as qualified were witnesses. Among these were negroes who were members of school boards, or trustees, of colored schools, and property owners and householders. Their testimony was uncontradicted. The total population of Morgan county in 1930 was 46,176, and of this number 8,311 were negroes. Justia Annotations is a forum for attorneys to summarize, comment on, and analyze case law published on our site. —-.

Was it because of the lack of statutory qualifications?

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