Katzenbach v. Morgan

PETITIONER: Nicholas deB. Katzenbach, Attorney General et al.
RESPONDENT: Morgan, et ux
LOCATION: Congress

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)

CITATION: 384 US 641 (1966)
ARGUED: Apr 18, 1966
DECIDED: Jun 13, 1966

Facts of the case

Katzenbach v. Morgan was a case, revised by USA Supreme Court regarding the legibility of Congress decision relating to the establishment of legislative provisions in accordance with the 14th Amendment, namely under the Section 5.

In 1965 Congress upheld the Voting Rights Act that was aimed to protect the fundamental rights of the minorities. It implemented the rule of the illegality of literacy tests. The law made a valid the provision regarding that nobody from the Puerto Rican people in New York should be deprived of their suffrage rights for being disabled for writing or reading in English if graduated from at least the sixth classes in school where the official language was not English. Before that, it was the obligation for all members of minorities to pass this test to confirm their level of education.

Morgan & Morgan as the voters in New York filed a suit before the court that this normative act came out the Congress jurisdiction and in such way made the violation of the 14th Amendment. Moreover, the appellants claimed that the state body had no power to regulate the internal state issues.

The case study reflects that the Supreme Court changed the previous order and considered that requirements of the mentioned act didn`t contradict with mentioned constitutional rulings and the government acted in his legal frameworks.

The case brief reflects the dissent position of judges that Congress didn`t have enough legal capacity to approve such normative document that regulated the exceptional state legal issue that was the voting rights aspects.


Does Section 4(e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 exceed the scope of Congress' powers to enact legislation because it infringes on powers reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment?

Media for Katzenbach v. Morgan

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 18, 1966 in Katzenbach v. Morgan

-- highly relevant.

We view the statute only as it bears on American citizens now residing on the mainland who are educated in Spanish language schools in Puerto Rico.

And it's the only question presented by this case, and it is as a practical matter, probably the only application of Section 4 (e) that will ever arise.

We first rely on Article 4, Section 3 of our Constitution which provides, “That Congress shall have power to make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory belonging to the United States”.

And the Treaty of Paris in 1898 by which Puerto Rico was ceded to the United States provides specifically at the civil rights and political status of the native inhabitants of Puerto Rico shall be determined by Congress.

And this was implemented over and over again by granting citizenship in 1917 to the residents of that territory.

The question here is whether Congress is now powerless to effectuate its policy with respect to Puerto Ricans who moved to the mainland by providing a shield against state laws which disqualify them from voting.

And getting to this, I emphasize two points.

The fact that Spanish yesterday and has for several decades been the language of instruction in Puerto Rican schools, is ultimately directly attributable to the Congress of the United States, which while it had direct control of the educational policy of Puerto Rico, did make a slight effort to impose English as a predominant language but abandoned that effort.

And with the knowledge of the consequences, gave the control to locally elected officials knowing full well that those officials would continue to use Spanish as the language in schools.

And in 1952, the agreement was made and so as of that date on, there was no question that Congress deliberately set upon the path of having Spanish to be the language spoken in the Puerto Rican public schools.

Earl Warren:

General, on what -- about what time did the -- that Congress first recognized that the rights of Puerto Rico to conduct schools in Spanish?

They were --

Earl Warren:

Was that before their constitution or at the time of their constitution?

It was when we had charge of it back in the -- after the Jones Act.

Earl Warren:


We tried to get them to put in English of the predominant language.

And the reports came back, I don't remember the exact date but the reports came back that would -- dissented in 1946 but the reports came back that it was not working.

You couldn't establish a bilingual school system because the large percentage of the community, the home and everything spoke Spanish, and the only time the youngsters spoke English was in school.

And so they've just abandoned it.

They did make some people say, “I have hardly attempt”, but an attempt was made.

And in 1946, it was just abandoned completely.

And finally in 1952, we get to the point of the absolute freedom.

The fact that we had control of this policy and the fact that we knew exactly what we were doing.

And in addition, encouraged the Puerto Ricans to come over to the mainland was a responsibility that Congress recognized in considering whether or not it would adopt 4 (e).

And the fact that Puerto Ricans have come to the mainland particularly to New York City and nearby areas in large numbers, is likewise attributable to Congress.

They have even charged by the treaty of cession with determination of the civil and political rights of the people in Puerto Rico granted them their citizenship as far back in 1917.

After that, this was when they encouraged them to come to the mainland.

The upshot is that Congress is largely responsible for the present predicament of Puerto Ricans residing in the States who are educated and otherwise qualified to vote but who are denied the voice in the political process solely because they do not read and write English.

It was therefore quite natural that Congress should feel a moral obligation to remedy a problem of its own making when the affected states declined to solve it themselves, and New York refused to it even though several bills were introduced in the last few years.