Voter Identification and the Forgotten Civil Rights Amendment: Why the Court Should Revive the Twenty-Fourth Amendment


Since Reconstruction, states have passed laws to limit the power of those traditionally not permitted to vote (i.e. not white men). These barriers on the right to vote include, inter alia, the payment of poll taxes, which were often required months in advance of an election. In 1964, prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, three-quarters of the States ratified the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, forbidding the denial or abridgement of the right to vote based on a person’s failure to pay a poll tax in federal elections. Since its ratification, the Supreme Court has only once decided a Twenty-Fourth Amendment issue—the 1965 decision in Harman v. Forssenius. In Harman, the Court held both that the failure to pay a poll tax in federal elections and the requirement that a voter choose between paying a poll tax and some other material requirement imposed on voting violated the Twenty-Fourth Amendment. The following year, in Harper v. Virginia Board of
Elections, the Court applied the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to a state poll tax rather than the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, despite some indication that the Twenty-Fourth Amendment could be incorporated against the states via the Seventeenth Amendment and Article I, § 2 of the United States Constitution. Although Harper did not overrule Harman or otherwise deem the Twenty-Fourth Amendment unconstitutional, the Court has never again applied the Twenty-Fourth Amendment. This Comment argues that the Court should resurrect the Twenty-Fourth Amendment and apply it to Voter Identification laws—the modern poll tax equivalent—to protect the unraveling of democracy and ensure the “one person, one vote” standard.

About the Author

Vanessa Wright is an attorney with the union-side labor law firm, Bush Gottlieb, in Glendale, California, which works to preserve and protect union and worker civil and labor rights. Wright is a 2019 graduate of UCLA School of Law. Prior to law school, Wright worked as a community organizer where her work included registering and running turn out voter campaigns in advance of elections.