Dunn v. Blumstein, 405 U.S. 330; 92 S. Ct. 995; 31 L. Ed. 2d 274 (1972)

Facts—James Blumstein moved to Tennessee on June 12, 1970, to assume his duties to teach law at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. He attempted to register to vote on July 1, 1970. Tennessee law authorized the registration only of persons who, at the time of the next election, will have been residents of the state for a year and of the county for three months. The county registrar therefore refused to register Blumstein.

Question—Does a state law requiring residency in a state for a year and in the county for three months violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Marshall (6–1). Such laws must be measured by a strict equal protection test. They are unconstitutional unless the state can demonstrate that such laws are “necessary to promote a compelling governmental interest.” A preelection waiting period may aid in preventing fraud, but the Court felt that thirty days should be an ample period of time for the state to complete whatever administrative tasks are necessary to prevent fraud, while a year or three months would be too much. As to residence requirements limiting the franchise to voters who are minimally knowledgeable about the issues, such requirements exclude too many people who should not and need not be excluded. “They represent a requirement of knowledge unfairly imposed on only some citizens.” The Court also noted that, in addition to depriving citizens of the right to vote, such laws also directly impinge on the exercise of the right to travel.

C.J. Burger argued in dissent that a durational residency requirement was just as valid as setting a minimum voting age.

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