Guinn v. United States, 238 U.S. 347; 35 S. Ct. 926; 59 L. Ed. 1340 (1915)

Facts—In 1910 Oklahoma amended its constitution with a “grandfather” clause that prohibited individuals who could not read or write from voting unless they were descendants of individuals who had been so entitled. African American citizens of Oklahoma charged that the amendment violated the Fifteenth Amendment.

Question—Does Oklahoma’s grandfather clause violate the Fifteenth Amendment?


ReasonsC.J. White (8–0). The Court reasoned that the Oklahoma amend- ment was designed to bypass the provisions of the Fifteenth Amendment by setting the date of voting eligibility for those that could not read or write prior to the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment. Since African Americans had no eligibility before that date, the Court reasoned that this amendment was an attempt to deny voting because of color or race.

“We say this because we are unable to discover how, unless the prohibitions of the Fifteenth Amendment were considered, the slightest reason was afforded for basing the classification upon a period of time prior to the Fifteenth Amendment. Certainly it cannot be said that there was any peculiar necromancy in the time named which engendered attributes affecting the qualification to vote which would not exist at another and different period unless the Fifteenth Amendment was in view.”

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