Saturday, April 1, 2017

The 24th Amendment -- Eliminating the Poll Tax

The 1960’s can legitimately be considered the decade of political activism.  Not only for the civil rights movement, or the anti-war protests that followed, but also because politicians made more changes to the US Constitution, quicker than at any other time since the Bill of Rights. 
Almost all of these amendments had to do with providing suffrage, or eliminating state imposed hurtles that prevented some from full access to the voting rights a citizen should enjoy.  Between January 1960 and December 1969, the States ratified, the 23rd, 24th and 25th amendments, the 26th came just two years later, but its framework was laid in the 60’s as part of the protests over the Vietnam war.

The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The 24th Amendment addressed a discriminatory practice, found principally in the south, that had been used to prevent the poor, mostly black, citizens from voting because they could not afford to pay a state mandated tax, known as a poll tax.
The poll tax had been around for a hundred years, gaining popularity in the south during the Reconstruction period.  In 1937, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the rights of the state to levy such a tax (Breedlove v Suttles, Tax Collector) when Mr. Breedlove sued the Georgia tax collector to allow him to register without paying the tax of $1.00/year.
As the civil rights movement, led by Dr. King, raised the conscience of America to the multitude of ways the blacks were discriminated against the discriminatory nature of the poll tax became a central focus.  At the time, Lyndon B. Johnson exerted enormous pressure within the Democratic party, and the Congress, to move forward with eliminating this issue through the amendment of the Constitution, first as the VP supporting John F. Kennedy’s push, and then as President, working to push the States as a legacy issue for JFK.
The amendment passed the Senate on September 14, 1962, and was ratified on January 23 1964.  Not surprisingly a number of southern states did not vote for ratification, they were Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina.  Joining them were Arizona, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.

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