The petitioner challenged the Virginia’s requirement of paying tax on all residents over 21 to be eligible for voting.
A State violates equal protection whenever it makes the affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral standard.
Virginia made annual payment of $1.50 poll taxes on all residents over 21 a precondition for voting. The petitioner sued alleging the poll tax unconstitutional but was dismissed by the district court. The district court held that the poll tax does not violate the equal protection.
Does Virginia’s poll tax on all residents over 21 as a precondition for voting violate the equal protection?
Yes, a State’s requirement of paying poll taxes as a precondition for voting violates the equal protection because wealth or fee paying has no relation to voting qualifications. The right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened or conditioned. Thus, Virginia’s poll tax is unconstitutional.
Justice Black and Harlan
Black: Poll tax legislation can reasonably and rationally be found to rest on many state policies without any evil purpose to injure anyone. Also, history is on the side of rationality of the State’s poll tax policy.
Harlan: There is a rational basis for Virginia’s poll tax as a voting qualification. Poll taxes have been a traditional part of our political structure. Payment of some minimal poll tax promotes civic responsibility, weeding out those who do not care enough about public affairs to pay $1.50 a year for the exercise of the franchise.
While the right to vote in state elections is not expressly mentioned in the Constitution, the Court cases demonstrate that equal protection restrains the States from fixing voter qualifications which invidiously discriminate. For instance in Yick Wo, the Court referred to the franchise of voting as a fundamental political right, because preservative of all rights. Also, wealth, like race or color, is not germane to one’s ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process. Lines drawn based on wealth, like those of race, are traditionally disfavored and to introduce payment of a fee as a precondition to voting is to introduce an irrelevant factor.