United States v. Classic Article

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United States v. Classic
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued April 7, 1941
Decided May 26, 1941
Full case nameUnited States v. Classic, et al.
Citations313 U.S. 299 ( more)
61 S. Ct. 1031; 85 L. Ed. 1368; 1941 U.S. LEXIS 601
Prior historyOn appeal from the District Court of the U.S. for the Eastern District of Louisiana
U.S. Const. art. 1, Sec. 4 empowers Congress to protect rights of electors in state primary elections; upheld Federal Corrupt Practices Act
Court membership
Chief Justice
Charles E. Hughes
Associate Justices
Harlan F. Stone · Owen Roberts
Hugo Black · Stanley F. Reed
Felix Frankfurter · William O. Douglas
Frank Murphy
Case opinions
MajorityStone, joined by Frankfurter, Reed, Roberts
DissentDouglas, joined by Black, Murphy
Hughes took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. I, Sec. 2; U.S. Const. Art. I, Sec. 4; 18 U.S.C.S. Sec. 51

United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299 (1941), [1] was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that the United States Constitution empowered Congress to regulate primary elections and political party nominations procedures, and that the constitutional "right of participation" extended to primary elections "is protected just as is the right to vote at the election, where the primary is by law made an integral part of the election machinery, whether the voter exercises his right in a party primary which invariably, sometimes or never determines the ultimate choice of the representative." [2]

Many observers assumed that the court had already ruled in Newberry v. United States, [3] that primary elections could not be regulated under the powers granted to Congress under Article I, Sec. 4 of the Constitution. But writing for the majority, Justice Harlan Fiske Stone argued that the Newberry court had been deeply divided on the issue and no majority had ruled one way or the other. Utilizing the reasoning by Chief Justice Edward Douglass White and Justice Mahlon Pitney in their concurrent opinions in Newberry, Stone argued that the Constitution's protection of the right to vote cannot be effectively exercised without reaching to primary elections and/or political party nominating procedures.

Though broadly noting that the constitutional right to vote extends to a party primary even when it "sometimes or never determines the ultimate choice of the representative," the Court offered no standard for determining whether a primary "was made an integral part of the election machinery." [4] However, in Morse v. Republican Party of Virginia, the Court clarified that this extends to virtually all primaries, noting that "Virginia, like most States, has effectively divided its election into two stages, the first consisting of the selection of party candidates and the second being the general election.". [5]

In a "diffident" dissent, Justice William O. Douglas agreed that the Constitution gives the Congress the right to regulate primaries, but concluded that the U.S. criminal code did not explicitly outlaw the actions in question. "It is not enough for us to find in the vague penumbra of a statute some offense about which Congress could have legislated, and then to particularize it as a crime because it is highly offensive," Douglas wrote. "Sec. 19 does not purport to be an exercise by Congress of its power to regulate primaries."

See also


  1. ^ United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299 (1941).
  2. ^ Classic, 313 U.S. at 318.
  3. ^ Newberry v. United States, 256 U.S. 232 (1921).
  4. ^ Classic, 313 U.S. at 314.
  5. ^ Morse v. Republican Party of Virginia, 517 U.S. 186, 205-07 (1996).

External links