I majored in political science in college, but I’d be hard pressed off the top of my head to tell you what the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution is about. Its ratification was completed on January 23, 1964 when South Dakota became the 38th state to ratify it. The 59th anniversary of its ratification prompted me to blog about the amendment today.
What the 24th Amendment prohibits
It prohibits the United States Congress and any state in the union from basing a person’s right to vote for US President, US Vice President, US Senate, or US House of Representatives in a primary or other election based on the payment of any tax.
Why the 24th Amendment came about
In the late 1890s and until just after the turn of the 20th century, former Confederate States adopted so-called poll taxes. The laws varied from state to state, but they were created as a way to prevent many black people and poor white people from voting. This was a way the states circumvented the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, which prohibits a person being prevented from voting based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The 15th Amendment said nothing about taxes.
The constitutionality of poll taxes was upheld by the US Supreme Court in Breedlove v. Suttles in 1937. In that case, Nolan Breedlove, a 28-year-old white man refused to pay the $1.00 per year poll tax in Georgia. By not paying the poll tax, Mr. Breedlove was not allowed to register to vote in any election in the state.
Mr. Breedlove filed a lawsuit against Mr. T. Earl Suttles, the Fulton County, Georgia Tax Collector, arguing that the poll tax was in violation of the 14th and 19th Amendments to the US Constitution. Hence, the name of the US Supreme Court case. The Breedlove v. Suttles decision was eventually overturned, but the case serves as an example of the US Supreme Court making wrong decisions sometimes
The Breedlove v. Suttles decision was unanimous! The Court concluded that the “privilege of voting is not derived from the United States, but is conferred by the state, and, save as restrained by the Fifteenth and Nineteenth Amendments and other provisions of the Federal Constitution, the state may condition suffrage as it deems appropriate.”
It was a case, like we’ve seen in other cases as recently as 2022, where the US Supreme Court took the easy way out and clung to the “states’ rights” doctrine.
How the 24th Amendment became the law of the land
After decades of some politicians ignoring the issue of poll taxes and a few politicians pushing for the abolishment of such taxes, Congress finally proposed the 24th Amendment at the prompting of President John F. Kennedy. The amendment was submitted to the states on September 24, 1962 after a vote of 295 to 86 in the US House of Representatives and a vote of 77 to 16 in the US Senate.
Illinois was the first state to ratify the amendment in November 1962 and South Dakota was the 38th state to ratify it on January 23, 1964. That 38th vote was all that was needed.
The aftermath of ratification of the 24th Amendment
Some states were slow to ratify the amendment even after its national ratification was final in 1964. Some states were slow to amend their constitutions to be in compliance with the federal amendment. Always looking for ways to get around the law, some states continued to require racial minority citizens to pass senseless tests in order to earn the right to vote.
People who want to keep other US citizens from voting have turned to more subtle (and some not-so-subtle) forms of voter intimidation. They’ve felt emboldened over the last seven years and the pendulum is swinging toward bolder attempts to scare certain people away from the voting booth. This is an attack on our democracy.
Our democracy depends on each of us defending the right of all citizens to vote.
Since my last blog post
As my new website has transitioned from the design phase to the development phase, I continued to write new content for the site.
It seemed like I had to learn some new technology every day. There is still more I will have to learn. I hope this is good for my brain cells. It isn’t good for my emotional stability or my disposition.
It’s been gratifying to see how well received my local history book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? Cabarrus History, Book 1 has been on Amazon and in the local bookstore, Second Look Books. Thank you to everyone who has purchased it! Don’t be shy about rating it or even leaving a short review of it on Amazon!
My sister and I took a much-needed break on Saturday afternoon and went to see the movie, “A Man Called Otto.” Tom Hanks was perfect in the role of Otto. The movie is based on the book, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. I read the book back in 2017 and I’ve remembered it ever since. Here’s the link my June 2, 2017 blog post in which I wrote about the book: You Need to Read These Books! I recommend the book and the movie.
Until my next blog post
I hope you have a good book to read. While you’re at it, please read one for me. I haven’t had much time to read lately.
Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.
Remember the brave people of Ukraine.