Oregon v. Mitchell

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Oregon v. Mitchell
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 20, 1970
Decided December 21, 1970
Full case name Oregon v. Mitchell, Attorney General
Citations 400 U.S. 112 (more)
91 S. Ct. 260; 27 L. Ed. 2d 272; 1970 U.S. LEXIS 1
Congress may set requirements for voting in federal elections, but is prohibited from setting requirements in local and state elections.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Black
Concur/dissent Douglas
Concur/dissent Harlan
Concur/dissent Brennan, White, Marshall
Concur/dissent Stewart, joined by Burger, Blackmun
Laws applied
Necessary and Proper Clause, U.S. Const. art. I § 2 and 4, art. II § 1, Enforcement Clauses of the 14th and 15th Amendments, Voting Rights Act
Superseded by
U.S. Const. amend. XXVI (in part)

Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970) is a case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that Congress could set voter age requirements for federal elections but not for state elections. The case also upheld Congress's nationwide prohibition on literacy tests and similar "tests or devices" used as voting qualifications as defined in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Petitioner Oregon was the U.S. state of that name. Respondent Mitchell was John Mitchell in his role as United States Attorney General. Congress had passed an act requiring all states to register citizens between the ages of 18 and 21 as voters. Oregon did not desire to lower its voting age to 18, and filed suit on the grounds that the act was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled in favor for Oregon by a 5-4 vote, in that it found that while Congress could set requirements for voting in federal elections that it did not have the power to set the voting age for local and state elections.


Enforcement of this ruling would have proven to be problematic, since states not lowering the voting age to the age of 18 for state elections would have had to provide special federal-election only ballots to citizens between 18 and 20 voting in federal elections. States would have to maintain two sets of voting registries, one for those between the ages of 18 through 20 and another for those 21 and older.

This question became moot with the ratification of the Twenty-sixth Amendment the next year, which lowered the voting age to 18 for all elections in all states.

Though Oregon v. Mitchell affirmed the federal government's power to set a minimum voting age for federal elections, no case has tested whether the federal government possesses the power to prevent states from lowering their voting ages to below 18 since the federal government has not tried to prohibit states from doing so. However, in 2013, the city of Takoma Park, Maryland became the first city to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local (but not general) elections, this being the first time persons under the age of 18 were permitted to vote in the United States,[1] although California has, since the 1980s, allowed persons who are 17 to register to vote for an election where the election itself will occur on or after their 18th birthday, and several states including Indiana allow 17-year-olds to vote in a primary election provided they will be 18 by the general election.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "16-year-olds voting? Secession? 5 Election Day oddities". USA Today. November 6, 2013. Retrieved November 12, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Cohen, William (1975). "Congressional Power to Interpret Due Process and Equal Protection". Stanford Law Review. Stanford Law Review, Vol. 27, No. 3. 27 (3): 603–620. doi:10.2307/1228329. JSTOR 1228329. 
  • Greene, Richard S. (1972). "Congressional Power over the Elective Franchise: The Unconstitutional Phases of Oregon v. Mitchell". Boston University Law Review. 52: 505. ISSN 0006-8047. 

External links[edit]

Works related to Oregon v. Mitchell at Wikisource