Breedlove v. Suttles

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Breedlove v. Suttles
Argued November 16–17, 1937
Decided December 6, 1937
Full case nameBreedlove v. Suttles, Tax Collector
Citations302 U.S. 277 (more)
58 S. Ct. 205; 82 L. Ed. 252
Case history
PriorAppeal from the Supreme Court of Georgia
Court membership
Chief Justice
Charles E. Hughes
Associate Justices
James C. McReynolds · Louis Brandeis
George Sutherland · Pierce Butler
Harlan F. Stone · Owen Roberts
Benjamin N. Cardozo · Hugo Black
Case opinion
MajorityButler, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. XIV, XIX
Superseded by
U.S. Const. amend. XXIV
Overruled by
Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966)

Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277 (1937), is an overturned United States Supreme Court decision which upheld the constitutionality of requiring the payment of a poll tax in order to vote in state elections.[1]


At the relevant time, Georgia imposed a poll tax of $1.00 per year, levied generally on all inhabitants. The statute exempted from the tax all persons under 21 or over 60 years of age, and all females who do not register for voting.[2][3] Under the state constitution, the tax must be paid by the person liable, together with arrears, before he can be registered for voting.

Nolan Breedlove, a white male, 28 years of age, declined to pay the tax,[4] and was not allowed to register to vote. He filed a lawsuit challenging the Georgia law under the Fourteenth (both the Equal Protection Clause and the Privileges and Immunities Clause) and the Nineteenth amendments.[5] T. Earl Suttles was named defendant in the case in his official capacity as tax collector of Fulton County, Georgia.[6][7]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

Justice Butler delivered the unanimous opinion of the Court.

Associate Justice Pierce Butler delivered the opinion of the court, which unanimously upheld the Georgia law.

With respect to the differential treatment of men and women under the law, the court held that differences between women and men allowed for special consideration to be given to women:[5]

The tax being upon persons, women may be exempted on the basis of special considerations to which they are naturally entitled. In view of burdens necessarily borne by them for the preservation of the race, the State reasonably may exempt them from poll taxes.[8]

With respect to the age discrimination claim, the court held that the upper age limit to the tax was similar to exemptions by age given for military or jury service.

With respect to the Nineteenth Amendment, which states that "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex", the court dismissed the notion that the purpose of the tax was "to deny or abridge the right of men to vote on account of their sex", and denied the claim as a result.[8]

Subsequent developments[edit]

Georgia abolished its poll tax in 1945.[9]

This decision remained precedent until 1966, when the Supreme Court reversed it in a 6–3 decision in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections.[10] Two years earlier, the 24th Amendment had been ratified, prohibiting the use of the poll tax (or any other tax) as a precondition for voting in federal elections.[11] Justice Hugo Black, who participated both in the Breedlove decision and in the Harper decision, dissented from the Harper decision declaring the poll tax to be unconstitutional.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Franklin, Ben A. (November 13, 1964). "U. S. Bench Backs Virginia Poll Tax: Negroes Expect to Appeal to the Supreme Court" (PDF). The New York Times. p. 19. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  2. ^ Abernathy, Mabra Glenn; Perry, Barbara Ann (1993). Civil Liberties Under the Constitution: Sixth Edition. Univ of South Carolina Press. pp. 412–. ISBN 9780872498549. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  3. ^ Bozonelis, Helen Koutras (2008-08-01). A Look at the Nineteenth Amendment: Women Win the Right to Vote. Enslow Publishers, Inc. pp. 82–. ISBN 9781598450675. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  4. ^ Baer, Judith A.; Goldstein, Leslie Friedman (2006-02-28). The constitutional and legal rights of women: cases in law and social change. Roxbury Pub. Co. p. 51. ISBN 9781933220222. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  5. ^ a b Rowland, Debran (January 2004). The Boundaries of Her Body: The Troubling History of Women's Rights in America. SphinxLegal. pp. 56–. ISBN 9781572483682. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  6. ^ Novotny, Patrick (2007). This Georgia Rising: Education, Civil Rights, and the Politics of Change in Georgia in The 1940s. Mercer University Press. pp. 148–. ISBN 9780881460889. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  7. ^ "United States Supreme Court". The New York Times. November 18, 1937. p. 46. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  8. ^ a b "Breedlove v. Suttles opinion". Supreme Court.
  9. ^ Novotny, Patrick (2007). This Georgia Rising: Education, Civil Rights, and the Politics of Change in Georgia in The 1940s. Mercer University Press. pp. 150–. ISBN 9780881460889. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  10. ^ Mustard, David B. (2003). Racial Justice in America: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. pp. 159–. ISBN 9781576072141. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  11. ^ Jillson, Cal (2011-02-22). Texas Politics: Governing the Lone Star State. Taylor & Francis. pp. 38–. ISBN 9780415890601. Retrieved 6 January 2013.

External links[edit]