Coleman v. Miller

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307 U.S. 433 (1939), argued 10 Oct. 1938, reargued 17–18 Apr. 1939, decided 5 June 1939 by vote of 7 to 2; Hughes for the Court, Butler and McReynolds in dissent. The Court faced three issues: (1) could the lieutenant-governor of Kansas break a tie in the state senate in favor of the proposed Child Labor Amendment; (2) could the state ratify an amendment it had previously rejected; and (3) could a state ratify an amendment thirteen years after Congress proposed it with no time limit? The court was “equally divided” (p. 447) on the first issue and thus left standing the Kansas Supreme Court's judgment sanctioning the lieutenant governor's participation. Citing congressional promulgation of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court held that the latter two issues were political questions for Congress to decide. Concurring Justices Hugo Black, Owen Roberts, Felix Frankfurter, and William Douglas wanted to entrust all amending issues to Congress. The dissenters, citing Dillon v. Gloss (1921), argued that Kansas's ratification was untimely. Addressing similar issues in the companion case, Chandler v. Wise, the majority dismissed an action against Kentucky's governor, declaring his certification of the state's ratification conclusive.

Coleman muddied the amending process and introduced the ambiguous precedent of the Fourteenth Amendment. Subsequent decisions concerning political questions could limit Coleman's reach. Thus, in Idaho v. Freeman (1981), a U.S. district court sanctioned a state's rescission of ratification of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment after Congress extended the amendment's original seven-year deadline.

John R. Vile

Subjects: Law.

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