1937 December 6

Supreme Court Declares Poll Tax Constitutional


In Breedlove v. Suttles, decided on this day, the Supreme Court ruled that the poll tax was constitutional. The poll tax was one of the devices used to disenfranchise African-Americans in Southern states, although it also had the effect of disenfranchising poor whites as well. The Court reversed itself and ruled the poll tax unconstitutional in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, on March 24, 1966, under the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The poll tax had been abolished for federal elections by the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified on January 23, 1964, but several states continued the poll taxes for state elections.

The Court: “Levy by the poll has long been a familiar form of taxation, much used in some countries and to a considerable extent here, at first in the colonies and later in the states.”

Learn more about the history of the right to vote: Alexander Keyssar, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in America (2009)

Learn more about African American history: Henry Louis Gates, Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History, 1513-2008 (2011)

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