HARMAN V. FORSSENIUS, 380 U. S. 528 (1965)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Harman v. Forssenius, 380 U.S. 528 (1965)

Harman v. Forssenius

No. 360

Argued March 1-2, 1965

Decided April 27, 1965

380 U.S. 528


In anticipation of the promulgation of the Twenty-fourth Amendment abolishing the poll tax as a requirement for voting in federal elections, Virginia eliminated the poll tax as an absolute prerequisite to voting in federal elections and in its stead substituted a provision whereby the federal voter could qualify either by paying the customary poll tax or by filing a certificate of residence six months before the election. In suits attacking the constitutionality of the Virginia statutes, the three-judge District Court refused to abstain to afford the Virginia courts an opportunity to pass on underlying issues of state law and to construe the statutes involved. Reaching the merits, the District Court held the certificate of residence requirement invalid, as an additional "qualification" imposed solely upon federal voters in violation of Art. I, § 2, and the Seventeenth Amendment.


1. The District Court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to abstain: the state statutes are clearly and unambiguous, the rights allegedly impaired are the fundamental civil rights of a broad class of citizens, and the immediacy of the problem facing the District Court was evident. Pp. 380 U. S. 534-537.

2. The certificate of residence requirement is a material requirement imposed upon those who refuse to surrender their constitutional right to vote in federal elections without paying a poll tax, and thus constitutes an abridgment of the right to vote in violation of the Twenty-fourth Amendment. Pp. 380 U. S. 538-544.

(a) The poll tax is abolished absolutely as a prerequisite to voting in federal elections, and no equivalent or milder substitute may be imposed. P. 380 U. S. 542.

(b) The statutory scheme may not be saved on the ground that the certificate of residence requirement is a necessary method of proving residence, for constitutional deprivations may not be justified by some remote administrative benefit to the State. Pp. 380 U. S. 542-544.

235 F.Supp. 66, affirmed.

Page 380 U. S. 529

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