1966 March 24

All Poll Taxes Declared Unconstitutional


In Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, decided on this day, the Supreme Court declared that poll taxes were unconstitutional. Poll taxes were one of the devices used by Southern states to keep African-Americans (and many poor whites) from voting. On January 23, 1964, the Twenty-fourth Amendment prohibiting federal poll taxes had taken effect, but five states still had poll taxes. One state, Arkansas, immediately repealed its poll tax. Harper involved a challenge to the still-surviving Virginia poll tax; lower courts had struck down the poll taxes in Alabama and Texas just two months before the Supreme Court decision on this day.

Beginning in 2008, supporters of voting rights began calling Voter ID laws and other new requirements that adversely affected voting by African Americans, poor people, and the elderly, the “new poll tax.” See, for example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9EAyiA5Rmf0

The Court:  “. . . to repeat, wealth or fee paying has, in our view, no relation to voting qualifications; the right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened or conditioned.”

Learn more: Steven Lawson, Black Ballots: Voting Rights in the South, 1944–1969 (1976)

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