The Hughes Court (1930–41)

Race and Equal Protection

In what decision did the Hughes Court uphold a poll tax?

The Hughes Court unanimously upheld Georgia’s $1 poll tax in Breedlove v. Suttles (1937). Nolen R. Breedlove, a 28-year-old white male, challenged the poll tax as a violation of equal protection because it did not provide a poll tax on those older than sixty. The Court rejected that notion and determined the poll tax constitutional. “The payment of poll taxes as a prerequisite to voting is a familiar and reasonable regulation long enforced in many states and for more than a century in Georgia,” Justice Pierce Butler wrote for the Court.

A constitutional amendment to prohibit poll taxes was introduced into Congress in 1939. Eventually, Congress passed the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1962 and the states ratified it in 1964. The amendment prohibited poll taxes, which were often used by Southern voters in a discriminatory fashion against would-be African American voters.


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