Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112; 91 S. Ct. 260; 27 L. Ed. 2d 272 (1970)

Facts—Oregon, Arizona, Texas, and Idaho resisted compliance with the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970. Original actions were brought to question the validity of the statute. The Voting Rights Act Amendments provided for three things: (1) the reduction of the minimum age of voters in both state and federal elections from twenty-one to eighteen, (2) prohibition of the use of literacy tests in all elections, state and federal, and (3) prohibitions disqualifying voters in presidential elections because of failure to meet state residency requirements.

Question—Does the Voting Rights Amendment of 1970 lowering the voting age to eighteen infringe on powers reserved to the states under the Constitution to control their own elections?

Decision—Yes, when applied to state and local elections but not otherwise.

ReasonsJ. Black (5–4). The Constitution reserved to the states the power to regulate the election of their own officials, but Congress has ultimate supervisory power over congressional and presidential elections. Congress has the authority under the original Constitution to permit eighteen-year-old citizens to vote in national elections and to prohibit states disqualifying voters in presidential elections because of failure to meet residence requirements. This comes under Article I, Section 4 and Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, the former dealing with congressional elections and the latter with presidential elections. Beyond the original Constitution the enforcement provisions of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments allow for the literacy test ban.

Black’s opinion split the difference between four justices on the Court who believed that Congress could establish the voting age in both state and federal elections and those who thought it could only establish such limits in federal elections.

Note—The Twenty-sixth Amendment overturned that part of this decision that would have limited the lowered voting age only to federal elections.

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