Oregon v. Mitchell

PETITIONER: Oregon, et al.
RESPONDENT: John Mitchell, Attorney General of the United States
LOCATION: United States Capitol Building

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 400 US 112 (1970)
ARGUED: Oct 19, 1970
DECIDED: Dec 21, 1970

Charles Wright, Jr. - for the petitioners, for Texas
Erwin N. Griswold - for the respondents
Gary K. Nelson - for the petitioners, for Arizona
Lee Johnson - for the petitioners, for Oregon
Robert M. Robson - for the petitioners, for Idaho

Facts of the case

In 1970 the USA Congress approved the Voting Rights Act Amendments that established the list requirements for all states regarding the voting procedure, the main belong them was to make a list of citizens in the age of 18 and 21 years for their registration as voters. After that, the states of Oregon, Texas and Idaho brought the claim to the Supreme Court regarding the provisions of this legislative document. Under the case, brief John Mitchell in his role as United States Attorney General was authorized as respondent.

The following act`s conditions claimed as constitutional were reducing of the minimum age from 21 to 18 years for voters for both state and federal elections; prohibition of passing of literacy or other same tests as mandatory condition to have a voting right in any territory. The abolishment to the states not access the voters to elections of the President and the Vice-President if they had not complied with state residency requirements but determination of the universal regulation regarding the state residency rules were proven as mandatory amendment to the law. The plaintiff argued that appropriate legal document infringed the fundamental state rights.

The case study concludes the Court opinion, which established that the minimum age of 18-year-old requirement upheld by Congress in the mentioned act is applicable for the national, but not for state or other local elections, that should be regulated under the internal legislation. The decision also underlined that the provision on the abolishment of using literacy or other same test was constitutional. The last issue of residency rules and absentee balloting was defined as illegible in accordance with the Constitution of the USA.


Does the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970 infringe on the rights the Constitution reserves for the states?

Media for Oregon v. Mitchell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 19, 1970 (Part 2) in Oregon v. Mitchell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 19, 1970 (Part 1) in Oregon v. Mitchell

Warren E. Burger:

-- in the first case on today's calendar, number 43 original, Oregon against Mitchell.

Mr. Johnson you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Lee Johnson:

May it please the Court.

This is an original action, under Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, 28 U.S.C., Section 1251 in which the State of Oregon is the plaintiff, the defendant is the Attorney General of the United States, John Mitchell who is not a resident of the State of Oregon.

We are seeking a decree that Title III of the Voting Rights Act of 1970 is unconstitutional and enjoining defendant from enforcing this Title with respect to the plaintiff's state.

The guts of that statute is simply in Section 302 which prohibit states from denying the Franchise to any person over the age of 18 who is otherwise qualified to vote.

Residential and the recent case of that provision do not involve in the case?

Lee Johnson:

We are not challenging that, Mr. Justice.

The Oregon Constitution like that of 46 other states restricts the Franchise to those who are 21 years and older.

I might add that in May 1970, the voters of Oregon overwhelmingly defeated a Constitutional Amendment which would have reduced the voting age to 19.

There are some points, in the plaintiff's argument over which I think there is a little dispute and which I would like to dispose off at the outset.

First that states have traditionally determined voter qualifications and that tradition was contemplated by the drafters of the Constitution in Article I, Section 2, dealing with the election of representatives and Article II, Section 1, dealing with the selection of Presidential electors, and was reaffirmed even after the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, it was reaffirmed in the Seventeenth Amendment which deals with the election of Senators.

Secondly, states certainly have a vital and legitimate interest in restricting the Franchise to responsible persons, and age is certainly a relevant criteria in determining the qualifications for voter responsibility.

Thirdly, the implementation of an age classification inevitably leads to line drawing and reasonable men can certainly differ as to the precise location of that line.

I think also, there are obviously outer limits, over which reasonable men would also not differ that the line was not reasonable.

Fourthly, while legislative wisdom may prefer one line over another, no one can seriously argue that a minimum age of 18 or 19, or 20, or 21 is irrational, irrelevant or invidious.

I think this Court could perceive a reasonable basis for any one of these choices.

I think the -- the point was put very succinctly by Professor Herbert Wexler in a letter to the President which appears in the congressional record on this legislation, in which he stated and I quote, “Age is obviously not irrelevant to qualifications and since any age criterion involves the drawing of an arbitrary line, fixing the age at 21, most certainly this is not capricious.”

I think that there will be considerable dispute over many issues that will follow in my argument and the Solicitor General will raise, but I think really the issue in this case boils down to one point, and it is simply this.

It's whether Congress has the power to substitute its legislative preference in selecting that line for the preference of the voters of the State of Oregon.

Of course, for Congress to exercise such a legislative mandate, it must look to one of the enumerated powers.

The defendant concedes that the responsibility for determining voter qualifications is at least primarily vested in the states by the Constitution.

The defendant rests its case on Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

I think in order to understand Section 5, we must first examine Section 1 of that Amendment.

And I think the point should be made at Section 1, standing alone is not an affirmative grant of power to Congress, but rather it's merely a prohibition against the states.

And this is in contrast to the enumerated powers of Congress such as Interstate Commerce that are enumerated in Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution.

Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment gives Congress the power to do all that is necessary and proper to enforce the prohibition of Section 1, but the test necessarily must be whether the power exercised by Congress is appropriate to the enforcement of what is prohibited by Section 1. in Title III, Congress and the defendant have attempted to obviate this test by bootstrap reasoning.

First, in Section 301 of the Act, Congress declares that requiring a citizen to be 21 years of age in order to vote is a violation of the Equal Protection Prohibition.

And therefore, it is necessary and proper to enforce the prohibition by preventing the states from denying the franchise to anyone who is over 18.

Secondly, defendant now asserts, the judicial review of Congress' findings is confined to the single issue of whether the Court can perceive any rational basis therefore.