Guinn v. United States

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238 U.S. 347

Guinn & Beal v. United States


No. 96 Argued: October 17, 1913 --- Decided: June 21, 1915

The so-called Grandfather Clause of the amendment to the constitution of Oklahoma of 1910 is void because it violates the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

The Grandfather Clause being unconstitutional, and not being separable from the remainder of the amendment to the constitution of Oklahoma of 1910, that amendment as a whole is invalid.

The Fifteenth Amendment does not, in a general sense, take from the States the power over suffrage possessed by the States from the beginning, but it does restrict the power of the United States or the States to abridge or deny the right of a citizen of the United States to vote on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. While the Fifteenth Amendment gives no right of suffrage, as its command is self-executing, rights of suffrage may be enjoyed by reason of the striking out of discriminations against the exercise of the right.

A provision in a state constitution recurring to conditions existing before the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment and the continuance of which conditions that amendment prohibited, and making those [p348] conditions the test of the right to the suffrage, is in conflict with, and void under, the Fifteenth Amendment.

The establishment of a literacy test for exercising the suffrage is an exercise by the State of a lawful power vested in it not subject to the supervision of the Federal courts.

Whether a provision in a suffrage statute may be valid under the Federal Constitution if it is so connected with other provisions that are invalid as to make the whole statute unconstitutional is a question of state law, but, in the absence of any decision by the state court, this court may, in a case coming from the Federal courts, determine it for itself.

The suffrage and literacy tests in the amendment of 1910 to the constitution of Oklahoma are so connected with each other that the unconstitutionality of the former renders the whole amendment invalid.

The facts, which involve the constitutionality under the Fifteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of the suffrage amendment to the constitution of Oklahoma, known as the Grandfather Clause, and the responsibility of election officers under § 5508, Rev.Stat., and § 19 of the Penal Code for preventing people from voting who have the right to vote, are stated in the opinion. [p354]