Leser v. Garnett

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Leser v. Garnett, 258 U.S. 130 (1922)[1], was a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution had been constitutionally established.

Prior history

On August 26, 1920, the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was certified by then-Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. The amendment provided that "The right of citizens in the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex." On October 12, Cecilia Streett Waters and Mary D. Randolph were registered as voters in the state of Maryland, despite the Maryland Constitution limiting voting rights to men only and Maryland not having ratified the amendment. Oscar Leser and others filed suit against the state board of registry to have the women's voter registrations invalidated, as authorized by Maryland law.

Case

The Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide "Whether the Nineteenth Amendment has become part of the federal Constitution". The plaintiffs disputed the constitutionality of the amendment through three claims:

  • The power to amend the Constitution did not cover this amendment, due to its character.
  • Several states which ratified the amendment had Constitutions which prohibited women from voting, rendering them unable to ratify an amendment to the contrary.
  • The ratifications of Tennessee and West Virginia were invalid, because they were adopted without following the rules of legislative procedure in place in those states.

In a unanimous decision, the court addressed each objection in turn.

In response to the first objection, the court declared that since the Fifteenth Amendment had been accepted as valid for more than fifty years and dealt with a similar matter (in that case, that voting rights could not be denied on account of race), it could not be argued that the new amendment was invalid due to its subject matter.

In response to the second objection, the court decided that when the state legislatures ratified the amendment, they were operating in a federal capacity as laid down in the Constitution, a role which "transcends any limitations sought to be imposed by the people of a state."

As far as the ratifications of Tennessee and West Virginia were concerned, the court remarked that the additional ratifications of Connecticut and Vermont after the proclamation of the amendment rendered the point moot, but also addressed the substance of the objection. The court found that as the Secretary of State had accepted the ratifications by the legislatures of the two states as valid, they were valid, effectively ruling the matter as non-justiciable.

References

  1. 258 U.S. 130 Full text of the opinion courtesy of Findlaw.com.