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Katzenbach v. Morgan

Citation. 384 U.S. 641, 86 S.Ct. 1717, 16 L.Ed.2d 828 (1966).
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Brief Fact Summary.

Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (the Act) was aimed at securing the franchisement of New York City’s large Puerto Rican population.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Pursuant to Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress possesses the power to enact laws that enforce and interpret provisions of the Constitution.


Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (the Act) provides that no person who has successfully completed sixth grade in a school accredited by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in which the language of instruction was other than English shall be denied the right to vote in any election because of his inability to read or write English. As such, the Act prohibits the enforcement of the election laws of New York requiring an ability to read and write English.

Registered voters in the state of New York brought suit, alleging that Congress exceeded its powers of enforcement under the Fourteenth Amendment and that Congress infringed on rights reserved to states by the Tenth Amendment.


Does Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 exceed the scope of Congress’ powers to enact legislation because it infringes on powers reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment?


No, Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 does not exceed the scope of Congress’ powers to enact legislation.


Justice Harlan

The Court has confused the issue of how much enforcement power Congress possesses under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment with the distinct issue of what questions are appropriate for congressional determination and what questions are essentially judicial in nature. Congress has overstepped its authority here by regulating what is essentially a states rights issue.


Section 4(e) of the Act is a proper exercise of the powers granted to Congress because Congress exercised its powers consistent with those afforded to it by Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which is a positive grant of legislative power authorizing Congress to exercise its discretion in determining whether and what legislation is needed to secure the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment.

It is enough that we perceive a basis upon which Congress might predicate a judgment that the application of New York’s English literacy requirement constituted an invidious discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Section 4(e) of the Act may thus be regarded as an enactment to enforce the Equal Protection Clause.

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