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U.S. Supreme Court

Gaston County v. United States, 395 U.S. 285 (1969)

Gaston County v. United States

No. 701

Argued April 23-24, 1969

Decided June 2, 1969

395 U.S. 285


The Voting Rights Act of 1965 suspends the use of any test or device as a prerequisite to registering to vote, in any State or political subdivision which, on November 1, 1964, maintained a test or device and in which less than 50% of the voting-age residents were registered or voted in the 1964 presidential election. Suspension is automatic upon publication by the Attorney General and the Director of the Census, respectively, that these conditions apply to a particular governmental unit. Such determinations were published with respect to Gaston County, North Carolina, and the use of the State's literacy test within the County was thereby suspended. Appellant brought suit to reinstate the test, asserting in accord with § 4(a) of the Act

"that no such test or device has been used during the five years preceding the filing of the action for the purpose or with the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color."

The Government contended that use of the test did have the "effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color" because it placed an onerous burden on the Negroes for whom the County had maintained separate and inferior schools. The three-judge District Court denied relief, holding that the County had not met its burden of proving that its use of the literacy test, in the context of its historic maintenance of segregated and unequal schools, did not discriminatorily deprive Negroes of the franchise.


1. The Act's legislative history discloses that Congress was aware of the potential effect of unequal educational opportunities upon the right to vote when it designed the test suspension provisions, and it is appropriate in an action under § 4(a) for a court to consider whether a literacy or educational requirement has the "effect of denying the right to vote on account of race or color" because the State or subdivision seeking to impose the requirement has maintained separate and inferior schools for its Negro citizens who are now of voting age. Pp. 395 U. S. 289-293.

Page 395 U. S. 286

2. The District Court's conclusion that appellant had not met the burden imposed by § 4(a) of refuting the Government's prima facie case that the use of the literacy test coupled with the County's segregated and unequal school system had discriminatorily deprived Negroes of the franchise, was not clearly erroneous. Pp. 395 U. S. 293-296.

3. Appellant's contentions that reregistration in 1962 was conducted fairly and impartially and that significant strides have been made in equalizing and integrating its school system do not refute the fact that, for many years, the County deprived its black citizens of the educational opportunities it granted its white citizens, and that "impartial" administration of the literacy test today would perpetuate those inequities in another form. Pp. 395 U. S. 296-297.

288 F.Supp. 678, affirmed.

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