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Harper v. Virginia State Bd. of Elections

Supreme Court of the United States

January 25-26, 1966, Argued ; March 24, 1966, Decided 1

No. 48


 [*664]  [***171]  [**1080]    MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

These are suits by Virginia residents to have declared unconstitutional Virginia's poll tax. 2  [****3]  The three-judge  [*665]  District Court, feeling bound by our decision in Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277, dismissed the complaint. See 240 F.Supp. 270. The cases came here on appeal and we noted probable jurisdiction. 380 U.S. 930, 382 U.S. 806.

 [****4]   While the right to vote in federal elections is conferred by Art. I, § 2, of the Constitution ( United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 314-315), the right to vote in state elections is nowhere expressly mentioned.  It is argued that the right to vote in state elections is implicit, particularly by reason of the First Amendment and that it may not constitutionally be conditioned upon the payment of a tax or fee. Cf. Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105, 113. 3 We do  [**1081]  not stop to canvass the relation between voting and political expression.  For it is enough to say that ] once the franchise is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That is to say, the right of suffrage "is subject to the imposition of state standards which  [***172]  are not discriminatory and which do not contravene any restriction that Congress, acting pursuant to its constitutional powers, has imposed." Lassiter v. Northampton Election Board, 360 U.S. 45, 51. We were speaking there of a state literacy test which we sustained, warning  [****5]  that the result would be different if a literacy test, fair on its face, were used to discriminate  [*666]  against a class. 4  Id., at 53. But the Lassiter case does not govern the result here, because, unlike a poll tax, the "ability to read and write . . . has some relation to standards designed to promote intelligent use of the ballot." Id., at 51.

 [****6]   We conclude that a State violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard.  Voter qualifications have no relation to wealth nor to paying or not paying this or any other tax. 5 Our cases demonstrate that ] the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment restrains the States from fixing voter qualifications which invidiously discriminate.  Thus without questioning the power of a State to impose reasonable residence restrictions on the availability of the ballot (see Pope v. Williams, 193 U.S. 621), we  [*667]  held in Carrington v. Rash, 380 U.S. 89, that a State may not deny the opportunity to vote to a bona fide resident merely because he is a member of the armed services. "By forbidding a soldier ever to controvert the presumption of non-residence, the Texas Constitution imposes an invidious discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment." Id., at 96. And see Louisiana v. United States, 380 U.S. 145. Previously we had said that neither homesite nor occupation "affords [****7]  a permissible basis for distinguishing between qualified voters within the State." Gray v. Sanders, 372 U.S. 368, 380. We think the same must be true of requirements of wealth or affluence or payment of a fee.

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383 U.S. 663 *; 86 S. Ct. 1079 **; 16 L. Ed. 2d 169 ***; 1966 U.S. LEXIS 2905 ****



Disposition:  240 F.Supp. 270, reversed.


poll tax, voting, voters, qualifications, cases, election, right to vote, Fourteenth Amendment, state law, franchise, invidious, rights, equal protection, suffrage, color, join, discriminations, prerequisite, wealth, classification, property qualification, dissenting opinion, political theory, state election, Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, discriminatory, Convention, irrational, freehold, purposes

Constitutional Law, Elections, Terms & Voting, General Overview, Governments, State & Territorial Governments, Elections, Equal Protection, Nature & Scope of Protection, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Poverty, Race-Based Voting Restrictions, Poll Taxes, Licenses