Katzenbach v. Morgan Case Brief

Summary of Katzenbach v. Morgan (1966)

Relevant Facts: Section 4e of the 1965 Voting Rights Act provided that no person who had completed sixth grade in school in Puerto Rico in which the language was other than English could be denied the right to vote on account of inability to read or write English. This provision was aimed primarily at stopping NY state literacy test to prevent many of its citizens of Puerto Rican dissent from voting.

Issue: Under constitutional law, may the Court use the Equal Protection Clause of the 15th Amendment too nullify NY’s English literacy requirement by legislating under section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Subissue: what type of legislation is appropriate to enforce the Equal Protections Clause?

Holding: Yes. The court held in situations where the NY government

Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Although the Court had previously determined literacy tests to not violate the Equal Protection Clause, the Court nonetheless found that the power of Congress under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment was broad enough to authorize the literacy test ban. The Court held the original drafters of the both the Necessary and Proper Clause and then latter-day framers of the 14th Amendment would find this appropriate legislation. Congress even said that 4e was supposed to be for those who were educated in American flag classrooms where the predominant language was not English.

The Court seemed to see Section 5 as giving Congress the power to add to–but not subtract from–protections that the Court finds contained in the 14th Amendment. A somewhat narrower interpretation of Morgan is that the Court will defer to findings of Congress that purport to establish that an applicable legal standard (relating, e.g., to equal protection) is met–even when deferring to those factual findings effectively overrules Supreme Court precedent.

Rule: Section 5 of 14th Amendment: “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Important Dicta: The same broad powers in this clause are the same as those expressed in the Necessary and Proper Clause.

Dissenting: (Justice Harlan, Stewart) This is more or less Congress trying to stop a NY law, not the constitutional power of the Court to end behavior which pervades the limits in Voting Rights or Equal Protection.

Concurring: N/A.

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