In United States v. Classic the Civil Liberties Unit of the Department of Justice resurrected the long dormant section 20 of the United States criminal code to prosecute successfully election officials in Louisiana for altering and falsely counting ballots cast in a Louisiana primary for representatives to Congress. Although the acts of the defendants were also in violation of state law the court asserted that "misuse of power possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with authority of state law, is action taken under color of state law" and therefore within the specific prohibition of the statute. In the wake of this decision this section was used frequently with telling effect to punish unauthorized acts of state officials that deprive persons of "rights, privileges and immunities secured and protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States." But section 20 had hardly become an established and potent weapon for the protection of individual rights when an obscure Georgia sheriff and his aides forced the court in the case of Screws v. United States to consider at greater length the implications of federal power resident in the statute. The result of the deliberation of the court seems to have curtailed seriously the efficacy of section 20.
CONSTITUTIONAL LAW-PROTECTION OF CIVIL LIBERTIES-FEDERAL CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF STATE POLICE OFFICERS-CONSTITUTIONALITY AND CONSTRUCTION OF SECTION 20 OF CRIMINAL CODE,
Mich. L. Rev.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mlr/vol44/iss5/7