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Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary election or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax. This amendment, the twenty fourth added to the United States Constitution, was ratified on January 23, 1964. It banned the use of the poll tax and other taxes for restrict in voting in federal elections.
Since the early 20 th century, there have been many rulings concerning the poll tax. The majority of these cases ruled against the poll tax and upheld many of the same ideas and concepts. More importantly though, this amendment lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This law had an immediate impact with nearly a quarter million new black voters registering and has continued to be the most important effect of the twenty fourth amendment. Perhaps the most influential result of the ratification twenty fourth amendment was the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1957 and in 1960, Congress had passed many laws to protect the rights of black voters.
Even with these advances for them, blacks continued with difficulty in registering to vote in many areas of the country (1). Many of these voter registration drives were scenes of violence and bitterness towards the newly registered voters. In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. , led a march to dramatize the voting issue of blacks. President Johnson immediately saw the need for a change and sent a bill concerning voting rights to Congress.
Very quickly and with little opposition, the bill was passed. This Voting Rights Act has two important parts that seem to take precedence over the others. Section two says that, "no voting qualification or prerequisite shall be imposed or applied by any state or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen on account of race or color'. The second main part was Section five of the law. It stated that no state could pass any new voting procedures into effect without letting the attorney general first to object.
These basically protected the VRA from change. The Voting Rights Act began many new policies. First, the attorney general was now able to send federal examiners to register black voters under special circumstances. This act also suspended all literacy tests in states in which less than fifty percent of the population that was of voting age had registered to vote. This new law had a immediate and widespread impact. First, nearly a quarter million new black voters had been registered by the end of 1965.
Nearly one-third of these voters could be directly attributed to the federal examiners appointed by the attorney general. This act was also strengthened in 1970, 1975, and 1982. The ruling that strengthened this law in 1982 did so in an important way. During this time, Congress amended Section 2 of the law to overturn the Mobile decision. The court ruled in that case, Mobile v. Bolden, that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act invalidates only the voting issues that were accepted for the sole purpose of discrimination (2).
Therefore with its strengthening in 1982, the act now stated that a voting practice that, "results in a denial or abridgment' of the right to vote can violate the law. Although it was met with much opposition, the Voting Rights Act became the most notable and lasting effects of the ratification of the twenty fourth amendment. The poll tax has been very controversial throughout the twentieth century. A poll tax is defined as a tax paid by one wishing to vote in a federal, state, or local election.
This tax obviously brings up many problems. First, people who cannot pay the tax or do not want to are denied their right to vote which contradicted the fifteenth amendment. This tax was also used by many states as a way to completely circumvent the fifteenth amendment. The way this worked was that the people who could not pay the tax, usually minorities and especially blacks, could not vote.
The fifteenth amendment guarantees equal voting rights which the tax seems to avoid. This tax can be seen as biased against the poor and minorities. In a way, the poll tax was being used for discrimination. Many landmark cases occurred concerning poll taxes.
The first major court case about poll taxes was Breedlove v. Settles (3). This case was argued on November 16-17, 1937 mainly dealt with a very specific Georgia statute. The statute stated that all persons under the age of twenty one and over the age of sixty, and all females who do not register for voting, were exempt from a poll tax of one dollar per year. This tax was usually put on all persons (3). There were also many important points under this case.
First, the payment of the Georgia poll tax as a necessity to voting is not required for denying someone the ability to vote. Another important statement that came out of the case was that voting was a privilege given by the states and not the United States. They also said that the state can impose what conditions it wants on the people. This power would be subject only to the limitations imposed by the fifteenth and nineteenth amendments. The court case of Harman v. Forssenius made even larger steps towards the restriction of the poll tax.
Basically, the court ruled that with the passing of the twenty fourth amendment, the poll tax would be abolished as a prerequisite for voting. Instead, voters could file a certificate of residence six months before the election (4). This case also contained many important points. First, that the states statutes are clear. The rights that were infringed upon are the fundamental rights of a large class of people (4). In this case, the large class of people were the blacks.
Secondly, the poll tax would be abolished completely as a requirement for voting. With that, there could also be no similar tax or constraint that would be instituted. The case of Harman v. Forssenius more seemed to more outwardly express the discontent over the poll tax. This discontent is shown through the rulings that were made against it. In 1963, in anticipation of the passing of the twenty fourth amendment, the governor of Virginia called a special session of the Virginia General Assemble to discuss the poll tax.
There, they enacted two acts concerning the tax. "To enable persons to register and vote in federal elections without the payment of poll tax or other tax as required by the 24 th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and to continue in effect in all other elections the present registration and voting requirements of the Constitution of Virginia, and to provide methods by which all persons registered to vote in federal or other elections may prove that they meet the residence requirements.' This is basically a much clearer affirmation of the restrictions of the poll tax in federal elections. There are two key ideas that this statement makes clear. First, people are allowed to vote without paying the poll tax. Second, people will have to obtain a certificate of residence requirement if they do not pay the poll tax. The third and final major case concerning poll taxes was Harper v.
Virginia Board of Elections in March of 1966. The key idea of this case was that appellants and Virginia residents brought this act up in order to have Virginia s poll declared unconstitutional. This was important because many of the other poll tax cases merely pursued the idea that the poll tax be abolished as a requirement for voting. The uncommon word here is unconstitutional. Like the other cases, this one had many important points that supported it. The first being fees, color, creed, or race have no effect on the citizens ability to participate in elections (5).
This makes logical sense and is a very good argument against poll taxes. Another argument contained in this case was that laws that infringe on fundamental rights, such as voting, must be closely scrutinized. Harper v. Virginia was unique because it was the first case against poll taxes that brought up the idea of the unconstitutionality of them. The ratification of the twenty fourth amendment in itself was not at all an important event. But, the end results, such as the Voting Rights Act, were very important.
This amendment paved the way for that act and the equal voting rights of all people. Poll taxes were the major inhibitor towards voter registration of minorities. That is the main reason that this amendment is in the Constitution. All people should have equal opportunity to participate in federal elections.
The twenty fourth amendment, like all of the others, is common sense and very logical. Works Cited (1) web accessed 11-29-99 (2) web accessed 11-30-99 (3) web accessed 11-29-99 (4) web accessed 11-29-99 (5) web accessed 11-29-99.
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