Oregon v. Mitchell; Texas v. Mitchell; United States v. Arizona

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400 U.S. 112 (1970), argued 19 Oct. 1970, decided 21 Dec. 1970 by vote of 5 to 4; Black for the Court, Douglas, Harlan, Stewart, Brennan, White, Marshall, Burger, and Blackmun concurring in part and dissenting in part. In 1970, Congress passed amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights Act that extended the provisions of the original act for another five years. The amendments also standardized residency requirements for participation in national elections and, dramatically, lowered the voting age to eighteen years for national, state, and local elections. Congress based its action on the enforcement language of the Fifteenth Amendment. The legislation raised the issue of federalism anew because national legislators were attempting to regulate the time and manner of conducting state and local elections, a traditional prerogative of the states. When the issue came to the Supreme Court, the major question was whether Congress had the constitutional authority to lower the national minimum voting age.

In a decision with five opinions and no clearcut majority, the Court ruled that Congress did not have the power to so act with respect to state elections but did have the authority to set the voting age at eighteen in federal elections for Congress and the presidency. Four of the justices believed that Congress had total power to regulate the voting age in any election, while four others believed that Congress had no such absolute power; Justice Hugo Black cast the deciding vote, concluding that Congress could regulate the voting age in national but not in state elections.

To bring the confusion that followed the Court's ruling to a quick end, Congress immediately adopted the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which was ratified in short order. Reversing the Court's holding regarding voting age in state elections, the amendment states that “the rights of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be abridged by the United States of any state on account of age.”

Howard Ball

Subjects: Law.

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