South Carolina v. Katzenbach

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South Carolina v. Katzenbach
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 17–18, 1966
Decided March 7, 1966
Full case name South Carolina v. Nicholas Katzenbach, Attorney General
Citations 383 U.S. 301 (more)
86 S. Ct. 803; 15 L. Ed. 2d 769; 1966 U.S. LEXIS 2112
The Voting Rights Act was a valid exercise of Congress's power under the enforcement clause of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
Tom C. Clark · John M. Harlan II
William J. Brennan Jr. · Potter Stewart
Byron White · Abe Fortas
Case opinions
Majority Warren
Concur/dissent Black

South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301 (1966),[1] is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court rejected a challenge by the state of South Carolina to the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which required that some states submit changes in election districts to the Attorney General of the United States (at the time, Nicholas Katzenbach).[2]


In South Carolina, the state attorney general, Daniel R. McLeod filed a complaint directly with the Supreme Court attacking the constitutionality of the act and asking for an injunction against enforcement by the attorney general of the United States, Nicholas Katzenbach. McLeod challenged the Voting Rights Act as an unconstitutional encroachment on states’ rights, as a violation of equality between the states, and as an illegal bill of attainder (legislative punishment enforced without due process of law.) [3]

South Carolina was joined on its attack on the Voting Rights Act by other southern states. Meanwhile, twenty states that filed in support of the act’s provisions and powers mainly consisted of northern and western states. The case took on an even wider significance than normal in a state challenge to a new federal law.[3]

The decision represents a rare instance of the Supreme Court exercising its original jurisdiction, as the case was filed directly in the Supreme Court by the state of South Carolina, rather than being appealed from a lower court. The court intentionally heard the case prior to the 1966 elections.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

In his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that the Voting Rights Act was a valid exercise of Congress' power under the enforcement clause of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The case pushed Justice Hugo L. Black to oppose legislation that he felt exceeded the textual reach of the constitution and dissented in part. In his dissent he explained, “There is no reason to read into the Constitution meanings it did not have when it was adopted and which have not been put into place.” [3] While he would have sustained most of the law, he would have struck down the Section 5 preclearance provisions:

Section 5, by providing that some of the States cannot pass state laws or adopt state constitutional amendments without first being compelled to beg federal authorities to approve their policies, so distorts our constitutional structure of government as to render any distinction drawn in the Constitution between state and federal power almost meaningless. One of the most basic premises upon which our structure of government was founded was that the Federal Government was to have certain specific and limited powers and no others, and all other power was to be reserved either 'to the States respectively, or to the people.' Certainly if all the provisions of our Constitution which limit the power of the Federal Government and reserve other power to the States are to mean anything, they mean at least that the States have power to pass laws and amend their constitutions without first sending their officials hundreds of miles away to beg federal authorities to approve them.[4]


Through the courts majority decision, the Voting Rights Act was upheld and able to be implemented without any barriers. This allowed for over 800,000 African Americans to register to vote between 1964 and 1967. [5] This case was also used as precedent in other judicial challenges to the Voting Rights Act.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301 (1966).  This article incorporates public domain material from this U.S government document.
  2. ^ South Carolina v. Katzenbach, U.S. Supreme Court Case Summary & Oral Argument
  3. ^ a b c Finkelman, Paul. "South Carolina v. Katzenbach." Milestone Documents in African American History: Exploring the Essential Primary Sources. ed. Vol. 4. 2010. Print.
  4. ^ Katzenbach, 383 U.S. at 358-59 (Black, J., dissenting in part).
  5. ^ "South Carolina v. Katzenbach - South Carolina Challenges Voting Rights Act". Retrieved 2018-09-20.

External links[edit]