Bond v. Floyd, 385 U.S. 116 (1966)

2012-01-05 10:12:34

Bond v. Floyd arose from the intersection of the struggle for civil rights and the protest movement against U.S. involvement in Vietnam, two political movements that had a dramatic impact on the United States in the 1960s. The U.S. Supreme Court faced the question whether the Georgia House of Representatives could deny a seat to the newly elected Julian Bond because of statements he made or endorsed against the Vietnam War and in support of young men who resisted the draft.

Bond, an African-American civil rights activist, came to run for the Georgia House seat because of the Supreme Court’s ‘‘one man, one vote’’ decision in Reynolds v. Sims. Following that decision, a threejudge federal district court panel ordered the reapportionment of the Georgia General Assembly. Bond had been a founding member of the Student Non- Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and was SNCC’s director of communications, when he decided in 1965, at age twenty-five, to run for a House seat from his overwhelmingly African-American Atlanta district. He handily won in the June election and was to begin his one-year term in January 1966.

Much of SNCC’s leadership strongly opposed the Vietnam War and resented the military draft, which both sent African Americans into the military and to Vietnam in disproportionate numbers and threatened to deplete the ranks of SNCC’s active civil rights workers. Nonetheless, the organization hesitated to alienate the Johnson administration by officially opposing the war. Their hesitation finally evaporated after the murder of Samuel Younge, an SNCC worker and a Navy veteran, who was shot to death when he tried to use a ‘‘whites only’’ restroom.

In response to Younge’s death, SNCC’s executive committee released a statement that linked the civil rights struggle in the American South with the freedom struggles ‘‘of the colored people in . . . other countries.’’ The statement faulted the United States for being on the wrong side in many of those struggles, noting that: ‘‘The murder of Samuel Younge in Tuskegee, Alabama is not different from the murder of people in Vietnam . . . . In each case, the U.S. government bears a great part of the responsibility for those deaths.’’ The statement further suggested that young men should be able to choose to work in civil rights or other similar organizations as an alternative to the military draft. Finally, it expressed ‘‘sympathy’’ and ‘‘support’’ for those ‘‘who are unwilling to respond to a military draft which would compel them to contribute their lives to United States aggression in Viet Nam in the name of the ‘freedom’ we find so false in this country.’’

Bond did not have a role in drafting the statement. However, when asked about it by a radio reporter, he endorsed it and expressed his opposition to all wars as a pacifist, but to the Vietnam War in particular. Members of the Georgia House of Representatives responded by challenging Bond’s right to be seated in the upcoming legislative session. Their petitions charged that Bond had violated the Selective Service laws, had given aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States and Georgia, and had brought discredit and disrespect to the House. They further contended that Bond’s endorsement of the SNCC statement showed that he could not sincerely take the oath of office prescribed by the Georgia Constitution, which essentially required him to swear that he would support the Georgia and U.S. constitutions and act to promote the interests of Georgia. When the House session was called to order, Bond was not allowed to take the oath of office. After a hearing, he was denied his seat.

Bond won election two more times only to be denied his House seat, before the Supreme Court decided his case. In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Warren, the Court held that the Georgia House of Representatives must allow Bond to take his oath of office and assume his seat. The Court said that neither Bond’s nor SNCC’s statements were punishable under the Selective Service Act because they did not expressly advocate illegal behavior. In response to the state’s argument that it could bar Bond for lawful statements because it could hold its elected officials to a higher standard of loyalty than its citizens and could, therefore, prohibit House members from saying things that ordinary citizens would have a First Amendment right to say, the Court responded that the First Amendment ‘‘requires that legislators be given the widest latitude to express their views on issues of policy.’’

Bond served twenty years in the Georgia General Assembly.


References and Further Reading

  • Carson, Clayborne. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981
  • Morgan, Charles, Jr. One Man, One Voice. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1979

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964) 

See also Voting Rights (Compound)