O'BRIEN V. SKINNER, 414 U. S. 524 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

O'Brien v. Skinner, 414 U.S. 524 (1974)

O'Brien v. Skinner

No. 72-1058

Argued November 6, 1973

Decided January 16, 1974

414 U.S. 524


Appellants, who are incarcerated in jail as convicted misdemeanants or pretrial detainees unable to make bail but who are under no voting disability under state law, and who requested but were denied the right to register and vote under mobile registration, absentee voting, or other procedures, brought this action challenging the constitutionality of the New York election laws. The contested statutes allow qualified persons to register and vote by absentee measures if precluded from personally doing so because of illness, physical disability, their duties, occupation, or business, and permit absentee voting (but not registration) if the voters are vacationing away from their residence on election day or are confined in a veterans' hospital. The state trial and intermediate appellate courts initially viewed appellants' confinement as physical disability and held that they were entitled to vote by absentee ballot. The New York Court of Appeals reversed that determination, concluding that the disability imposed by incarceration did not come within the terms of the statute.


The challenged provisions as thus construed, which raise no question of disenfranchisement of persons convicted of criminal conduct and permit incarcerated persons to register and vote by absentee means if confined in a county where they are not residents, violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, as they arbitrarily discriminate between categories of qualified voters. Pp. 414 U. S. 528-531.

31 N.Y.2d 317, 291 N.E.2d 134, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J.,delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and POWELL, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which DOUGLAS and BRENNAN, JJ., joined, post, p. 414 U. S. 531. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 414 U. S. 535.

Page 414 U. S. 525

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