This lesson discusses the 24th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Additionally, this lesson will summarize the history behind the amendment and a couple of significant U.S. Supreme Court cases which the amendment influenced.
What Is the 24th Amendment?
Imagine it’s your first time to vote in a national election and how excited you are to finally be able to finally take part! You walk up to your voting precinct, and you’re told that you must pay a tax in order to vote. Do you pay the tax? Or do you say no thanks and not vote? This is the situation that affected some voters before the 24th Amendment was passed.The 24th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America abolished the poll tax for all federal elections. A poll tax was a tax of anywhere from one to a few dollars that had to be paid annually by each voter in order to be able to cast a vote.
History of the 24th Amendment
After Congress passed the 15th Amendment, which afforded the right to vote to all men, there was opposition, especially in the South. In an effort to deter African-American voters, many Southern states enacted poll taxes. However, poll taxes also deterred poor white voters.Legislation to end poll taxes began to be introduced every year in Congress, beginning in 1939. Many members of Congress suggested that poll taxes could be outlawed under the 14th Amendment, which abolished slavery by giving equal rights to all men, or the 15th Amendment. However, it was decided that drafting an amendment that specifically made poll taxes illegal would be a stronger statement and have more far-reaching effects.Finally, on August 27, 1962, after approximately 23 years of trying to pass legislation, the 24th Amendment was passed by Congress by a vote of 295 to 86.
At that time, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas were the only states with poll taxes, but Congress still deemed it necessary because poll taxes were previously deemed constitutional by the U.S. Courts.After the amendment was passed by Congress, it was submitted to the states for ratification. Ratification is the process where the states each approve the constitutional amendment via the respective state’s ratification procedures.
In order for the amendment to be passed by the states, three-quarters of the states, or 38 states, had to ratify it. On January 23, 1964, South Dakota became the 38th state to ratify the 24th Amendment. After ratification, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 24th Amendment into existence on February 4, 1964.
Court Cases Affecting the 24th Amendment
The first major U.S. Supreme Court case regarding the 24th Amendment was Harman v. Forssenius (1965). In this case, Virginia, in anticipation of the 24th Amendment, enacted statutes that required either the paying of a tax or filing of paperwork six months prior to voting to establish residency.
The Supreme Court in Harman declared the Virginia law unconstitutional and stressed that the 24th Amendment was much like the 15th Amendment in that it abolished any requirements that effectively impede or impair a voter’s right to vote.Another U.S. Supreme Court case, which came out of the effects of the 24th Amendment, was Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections.
Even though poll taxes were illegal in federal elections, some states, such as Virginia, required poll taxes for state elections. The Supreme Court, in this case, construed that requiring voters to pay in state elections violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The Equal Protection Clause can be found in the 14th Amendment and gives equal protection under the laws to all persons.
As a response to the enactment of the 15th Amendment, which allowed all men the right to vote, including African-Americans and other minority citizens, many states enacted procedures and requirements to deter these people from voting. Enactment of poll taxes, which were taxes required to be paid in order for a person to vote, was one such tactic used by states, especially Southern states. However, the poll taxes did not just deter African-Americans but also deterred the poor in general. The 24th Amendment was enacted by Congress in 1962 and signed into law in 1964, which abolished the requirement in numerous states for voters to pay a poll tax.
Synopsis of Terms
24th Amendment: The 24th Amendment abolished the poll tax for federal elections.Poll tax: Poll Tax is a fee that voters had to pay each year to vote.Ratification: Ratification is the process whereby states vote to approve an amendment to the Constitution.Equal Protection Clause: The Equal Protection Clause is part of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution that prohibits states from denying any person equal protections.
Discovering facts about the 24th Amendment will enable you to:
- Outline the 24th Amendment
- Expound upon the history of the amendment
- Name key cases that influenced the 24th Amendment