Breedlove v. Suttles, No. 9

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBUTLER
Citation302 U.S. 277,82 L.Ed. 252,58 S.Ct. 205
Decision Date06 December 1937
Docket NumberNo. 9
PartiesBREEDLOVE v. SUTTLES, Tax Collector

302 U.S. 277
58 S.Ct. 205
82 L.Ed. 252
BREEDLOVE

v.

SUTTLES, Tax Collector.

No. 9.
Argued Nov. 16, 17, 1937.
Decided Dec. 6, 1937.

[Syllabus from pages 277-279 intentionally omitted]

Page 279

Messrs. J. Ira Harrelson, of Atlanta, Ga., Henry G. Van Veen and Arthur Garfield Hays, both of New York City, for appellant.

Messrs. W. § Northcutt and E. Harold Sheats, both of Atlanta, Ga., for appellee.

Mr. Justice BUTLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

A Georgia statute provides that there shall be levied and collected each year from every inhabitant of the state between the ages of 21 and 60 a poll tax of one dollar, but that the tax shall not be demanded from the

Page 280

blind or from females who do not register for voting. Georgia Code, 1933, § 92-108. The State Constitution declares that to entitle a person to register and vote at any election he shall have paid all poll taxes that he may have had opportunity to pay agreeably to law. Article 2, § 1, par. 3, Code, § 2-603. The form of oath prescribed to qualify an elector contains a clause declaring compliance with that requirement. Section 34-103. Tax collectors may not allow any person to register for voting unless satisfied that his poll taxes have been paid. Section 34-114. Appellant brought this suit in the superior court of Fulton county to have the clause of the Constitution and the statutory provisions above mentioned declared repugnant to various provisions of the Federal Constitution and to compel appellee to allow him to register for voting without payment of poll taxes. The court dismissed his petition. The state Supreme Court affirmed. 183 Ga. 189, 188 S.E. 140.

The pertinent facts alleged in the petition are these. March 16, 1936, appellant, a white male citizen 28 years old, applied to appellee to register him for voting for federal and state officers at primary and general elections. He informed appellee he had neither made poll tax returns nor paid any poll taxes and had not registered to vote because a receipt for poll taxes and an oath that he had paid them are prerequisites to registration. He demanded that appellee administer the oath, omitting the part declaring payment of poll taxes, and allow him to register. Appellee refused.

Appellant maintains that the provisions in question are repugnant to the equal protection clause and the privileges and immunities clause of the Fourteenth Amemdmemt and to the Nineteenth Amendment.

1. He asserts that the law offends the rule of equality in that it extends only to persons between the ages of 21 and 60 and to women only if they register for voting

Page 281

and in this it makes payment a prerequisite to registration. He does not suggest that exemption of the blind is unreasonable.

Levy by the poll has long been a familiar form of taxation, much used in some countries and to a considerable extent here, at first in the colonies and later in the states. To prevent burdens deemed grievous and oppressive, the Constitutions of some states prohibit or limit poll taxes. That of Georgia prevents more than a dollar a year. Article 7, § 2, par. 3, Code, § 2-5004. Poll taxes are laid upon persons without regard to their occupations or property to raise money for the support of government or some more specific end.1 The equal protection clause does not require absolute equality. While possible by statutory declaration to levy a poll tax upon every inhabitant of whatsoever sex, age or condition, collection from all would be impossible for always there are many too poor to pay. Attempt equally to enforce such a measure would justify condemnation of the tax as harsh and unjust. See Faribault v. Misener, 20 Minn. 396, 398 (Gil. 347); Thurston County v. Tenino Stone Quarries, 44 Wash. 351, 355, 87 P. 634, 9 L.R.A.(N.S.) 306, 12 Ann.Cas. 314; Salt Lake City v. Wilson, 46 Utah 60, 66 et seq., 148 P. 1104. Collection from minors would be to put the burden upon their fathers or others upon whom they depend for support.2 It is not unreasonable to exclude them from the class taxed.

Men who have attained the age of 60 are often, if not always, excused from road work, jury duty and service

Page 282

in the militia.3 They have served or have been liable to be called on to serve the public to the extent that the state chooses to require. So far as concerns equality under the equal protection clause, there is no substantial difference between these...

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57 practice notes
  • Mancuso v. Taft, No. 72-1180.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • March 20, 1973
    ...which speaks of the right to run for state office also speaks of the right to vote in state elections, and cites Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277, 283, 58 S.Ct. 205, 82 L.Ed. 252 (1937) as support. But in 1966 the Supreme Court, in Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 669, 8......
  • Jones v. Governor of Fla., No. 20-12003
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 11, 2020
    ...66 L.Ed. 505 (1922), and once in a decision upholding a poll tax that included an exception for nonvoting women, Breedlove v. Suttles , 302 U.S. 277, 279–80, 58 S.Ct. 205, 82 L.Ed. 252 (1937), overruled by Harper , 383 U.S. 663, 86 S.Ct. 1079, 16 L.Ed.2d 169. In both decisions, the Court co......
  • Tex. Democratic Party v. Abbott, No. 20-50407
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • October 14, 2020
    ...The Nineteenth Amendment "applies to men and women alike and by its own force supersedes inconsistent measures." Breedlove v. Suttles , 302 U.S. 277, 283, 58 S.Ct. 205, 82 L.Ed. 252 (1937), overruled on other grounds by Harper v. Va. State Bd. of Elections , 383 U.S. 663, 668–69, 86 S.Ct. 1......
  • Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections Butts v. Harrison, Nos. 48
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 24, 1966
    ...unconstitutional Virginia's poll tax.1 The three-judge Page 665 District Court, feeling bound by our decision in Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277, 58 S.Ct. 205, 82 L.Ed. 252, dismissed the complaint. See 240 F.Supp. 270. The cases came here on appeal and we noted probable jurisdiction. 38......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
56 cases
  • Mancuso v. Taft, No. 72-1180.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit
    • March 20, 1973
    ...which speaks of the right to run for state office also speaks of the right to vote in state elections, and cites Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277, 283, 58 S.Ct. 205, 82 L.Ed. 252 (1937) as support. But in 1966 the Supreme Court, in Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663, 669, 8......
  • Jones v. Governor of Fla., No. 20-12003
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 11, 2020
    ...66 L.Ed. 505 (1922), and once in a decision upholding a poll tax that included an exception for nonvoting women, Breedlove v. Suttles , 302 U.S. 277, 279–80, 58 S.Ct. 205, 82 L.Ed. 252 (1937), overruled by Harper , 383 U.S. 663, 86 S.Ct. 1079, 16 L.Ed.2d 169. In both decisions, the Court co......
  • Tex. Democratic Party v. Abbott, No. 20-50407
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • October 14, 2020
    ...The Nineteenth Amendment "applies to men and women alike and by its own force supersedes inconsistent measures." Breedlove v. Suttles , 302 U.S. 277, 283, 58 S.Ct. 205, 82 L.Ed. 252 (1937), overruled on other grounds by Harper v. Va. State Bd. of Elections , 383 U.S. 663, 668–69, 86 S.Ct. 1......
  • Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections Butts v. Harrison, Nos. 48
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 24, 1966
    ...unconstitutional Virginia's poll tax.1 The three-judge Page 665 District Court, feeling bound by our decision in Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277, 58 S.Ct. 205, 82 L.Ed. 252, dismissed the complaint. See 240 F.Supp. 270. The cases came here on appeal and we noted probable jurisdiction. 38......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Supreme Court of the United States, 1965-1966
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 19-4, December 1966
    • December 1, 1966
    ...wealth nor to paying or not paying this or any other tax.&dquo; (P. 666.) In noting that this case overruled in part Breedlove v. Suttles (302 U.S. 277, 1937) the Court said,&dquo;Notions of what constitutes equal treatment for purposes of the Equal ProtectionClause do change.&dquo; (P. 669......

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