State violates the Equal Protection Clause whenever it makes the
affluence of the voter or payment of any fee an electoral
State Arg - Can demand poll tax for voting
It is argued that a State may exact fees from citizens for many
different kinds of licenses; that if it can demand from all an
equal fee for a driver's license, it can demand from all an
equal poll tax for voting.
- Power is limited to fix qualification.
But we must remember that the interest of the State, when it
comes to voting, is limited to the power to fix qualifications.
- Wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to voting
Wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one's
ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process.
Lines drawn on the basis of wealth or property, like those of
race ( Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 216), are
Wealth or polltax is an irrelevant factor
To introduce wealth or payment of a fee as a measure of a
voter's qualifications is to introduce a capricious or
- Equal Protection treatments change
Notions of what constitutes equal treatment for purposes of the
Equal Protection Clause do change.
- Skinner -
Classifications might invade or restrain
Where fundamental rights and liberties are asserted under the
Equal Protection Clause, classifications which might invade or
restrain them must be closely scrutinized and carefully
The right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so
burdened or conditioned.
Dissent - Justice Black
Broadest kind of leeway
The Equal Protection Clause States are to have the broadest kind
of leeway in areas where they have a general constitutional
competence to act.
[State] poll tax legislation can "reasonably," "rationally" and
without an "invidious" or evil purpose to injure anyone be found
to rest on a number of state policies including
(1) the State's desire to collect its revenue, and
(2) its belief that voters who pay a poll tax will be interested
in furthering the State's welfare when they vote.
History is on the side of "rationality"
'[And] history is on the side of "rationality" of the State's
poll tax policy.
Property qualifications existed in the Colonies and were
continued by many States after the Constitution was adopted ....
Another reason for my dissent [is that the Court] seems to be
using the old "natural-law-due-process formula" to justify
striking down state laws as violations of the Equal Protection
Dissent - Justice Harlan, Justice Stewart
Believes there is a rational basis for Virginias poll tax
[The Court uses] captivating phrases, but they are wholly
inadequate to satisfy the standard governing adjudication of the
equal protection issue: Is there a rational basis for Virginia's
poll tax as a voting qualification? I think the answer to that
question is undoubtedly "yes."
Property qualifications and poll taxes have been a traditional
part of our political structure.
In the Colonies the franchise was generally a restricted one.
Promotes Civic Responsibility
[It] is certainly a rational argument that payment of some
minimal poll tax promotes civic responsibility, weeding out
those who do not care enough about public affairs to pay $1.50
or thereabouts a year for the exercise of the franchise.
People with means are more responsible
It is also arguable, indeed it was probably accepted as sound
political theory by a large percentage of Americans through most
of our history, that people with some property have a deeper
stake in community affairs, and are consequently more
responsible, more educated, more knowledgeable, more worthy of
confidence, than those without means, and that the community and
Nation would be better managed if the franchise were restricted
to such citizens.