Annotation 40 - Fourteenth Amendment

 

  Congressional Definition of Fourteenth Amendment Rights .--In the Civil Rights Cases, 107 the Court observed that ''the legislation which Congress is authorized to adopt in this behalf is not general legislation upon the rights of the citizen, but corrective legislation,'' that is, laws to counteract and overrule those state laws which Sec. 1 forbade the States to adopt. And the Court was quite clear that under its responsibilities of judicial re view, it was the body which would determine that a state law was impermissible and that a federal law passed pursuant to Sec. 5 was necessary and proper to enforce Sec. 1. 108 But in United States v. Guest, 109 Justice Brennan protested that this view ''attributes a far too limited objective to the Amendment's sponsors, that in fact ''the primary purpose of the Amendment was to augment the power of Congress, not the judiciary.''

In Katzenbach v. Morgan, 110 Justice Brennan, this time speaking for the Court, in effect overrode the limiting view and posited a doctrine by which Congress was to define the substance of what the legislation enacted pursuant to Sec. 5 must be appropriate to. That is, in upholding the constitutionality of a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 111 barring the application of English literacy requirements to a certain class of voters, the Court rejected a state argument ''that an exercise of congressional power under Sec. 5 . . . that prohibits the enforcement of a state law can only be sustained if the judicial branch determines that the state law is prohibited by the provisions of the Amendment that Congress sought to enforce.'' 112 Inasmuch as the Court had previously upheld an English literacy requirement under equal protection challenge, 113 acceptance of the argument would have doomed the federal law. But, said Justice Brennan, Congress itself might have questioned the justifications put forward by the State in defense of its law and might have concluded that instead of being supported by acceptable reasons the requirements were unrelated to those justifications and discriminatory in intent and effect. The Court would not evaluate the competing considerations which might have led Congress to its conclusion; since Congress ''brought a specially informed legislative competence'' to an appraisal of voting requirements, ''it was Congress' prerogative to weigh'' the considerations and the Court would sustain the conclusion if ''we perceive a basis upon which Congress might predicate a judgment'' that the requirements constituted invidious discrimination. 114  

In dissent, Justice Harlan protested that ''[i]n effect the Court reads Sec. 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment as giving Congress the power to define the substantive scope of the Amendment. If that indeed be the true reach of Sec. 5, then I do not see why Congress should not be able as well to exercise its Sec. 5 'discretion' by enacting statutes so as in effect to dilute equal protection and due process decisions of this Court.'' 115 Justice Brennan rejected this reasoning. ''We emphasize that Congress' power under Sec. 5 is limited to adopting measures to enforce the guarantees of the Amendment; Sec. 5 grants Congress no power to restrict, abrogate, or dilute these guarantees.'' 116 Congress responded, however, in both fashions. On the one hand, in the 1968 Civil Rights Act it relied on Morgan in expanding federal powers to deal with private violence that is racially motivated, and to some degree in outlawing most private housing discrimination; 117 on the other hand, it enacted provisions of law purporting to overrule the Court's expansion of the self-incrimination and right-to-counsel clauses of the Bill of Rights, expressly invoking Morgan. 118  

Congress' power under Morgan returned to the Court's consideration when several States challenged congressional legislation 119 lowering the voting age in all elections to 18 and prescribing residency and absentee voting requirements for the conduct of presidential elections. In upholding the latter provision and in dividing over the former, the Court revealed that Morgan's vitality was in some considerable doubt, at least with regard to the reach which many observers had previously seen. 120 Four Justices accepted Morgan in full, 121 while one Justice rejected it totally 122 and an other would have limited it to racial cases. 123 The other three Justices seemingly restricted Morgan to its alternate rationale in passing on the age reduction provision but the manner in which they dealt with the residency and absentee voting provision afforded Congress some degree of discretion in making substantive decisions about what state action is discriminatory above and beyond the judicial view of the matter. 124  

More recent decisions read broadly Congress' power to make determinations that appear to be substantive decisions with respect to constitutional violations. 125 Acting under both the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, Congress has acted to reach state electoral practices that ''result'' in diluting the voting power of minorities, although the Court apparently requires that it be shown that electoral procedures must have been created or maintained with a discriminatory animus before they may be invalidated under the two Amendments. 126 Moreover, movements have been initiated in Congress by opponents of certain of the Court's decisions, notably the abortion rulings, to utilize Sec. 5 powers to curtail the rights the Court has derived from the due process clause and other provisions of the Constitution. 127  

Footnotes

[Footnote 107]   109 U.S. 3, 13 -14 (1883).

[Footnote 108] Cf. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cr.) 137 (1803).

[Footnote 109]   383 U.S. 745, 783 and n.7 (1966) (concurring and dissenting).

[Footnote 110]   384 U.S. 641 (1966). Besides the ground of decision discussed here, Morgan also advanced an alternative ground for upholding the statute. That is, Congress might have overridden the state law not because the law itself violated the equal protection clause but because being without the vote meant the class of persons was subject to discriminatory state and local treatment and giving these people the ballot would afford a means of correcting that situation. The statute therefore was an appropriate means to enforce the equal protection clause under ''necessary and proper'' standards. Id. at 652-653. A similar ''necessary and proper'' approach underlay South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U.S. 301 (1966), under the Fifteenth Amendment's enforcement clause.

[Footnote 111] 79 Stat. 439, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973b(e).

[Footnote 112]   384 U.S. at 648 .

[Footnote 113] Lassiter v. Northampton County Bd. of Elections, 360 U.S. 45 (1959).

[Footnote 114] Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641, 653 -56 (1966).

[Footnote 115] Id. at 668. Justice Stewart joined this dissent.

[Footnote 116] Id. at 651 n.10. Justice O'Connor for the Court quoted and reiterated Justice Brennan's language in Mississippi Univ. for Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 731 -33 (1982).

[Footnote 117] 82 Stat. 73, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 245. See S. Rep. No. 721, 90th Congress, 1st Sess. 6-7 (1967). See also 82 Stat. 81, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 3601 et seq.

[Footnote 118] Title II, Omnibus Safe Streets and Crime Control Act, 82 Stat. 210, 18 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 3501, 3502. See S. Rep. No. 1097, 90th Congress, 2d Sess. 53-63 (1968). The cases which were subjects of the legislation were Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967), insofar as federal criminal trials were concerned.

[Footnote 119] Titles II and III of the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970, 84 Stat. 316, 42 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 1973aa-1, 1973bb.

[Footnote 120] Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970).

[Footnote 121] Id. at 229, 278-81 (Justices Brennan, White, and Marshall), 135, 141-44 (Justice Douglas).

[Footnote 122] Id. at 152, 204-09 (Justice Harlan).

[Footnote 123] Id. at 119, 126-31 (Justice Black).

[Footnote 124] The age reduction provision could be sustained ''only if Congress has the power not only to provide the means of eradicating situations that amount to a violation of the Equal Protection Clause, but also to determine as a matter of substantive constitutional law what situations fall within the ambit of the clause, and what state interests are 'compelling.''' Id. at 296 (Justices Stewart and Blackmun and Chief Justice Burger). In their view, Congress did not have that power and Morgan did not confer it. But in voting to uphold the residency and absentee provision, the Justices concluded that ''Congress could rationally conclude that the imposition of durational residency requirements unreasonably burdens and sanctions the privilege of taking up residence in another State'' without reaching an independent determination of their own that the requirements did in fact have that effect. Id. at 286.

[Footnote 125] See City of Rome v. United States, 446 U.S. 156, 173 -83 (1980), under the Fifteenth Amendment. Infra, pp. 1948-50. See also Fullilove v. Klutznick, 448 U.S. 448, 476 -78 (1980) (plurality opinion by Chief Justice Burger), and id. at 500-02 (Justice Powell concurring).

[Footnote 126] The Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982, Pub. L. 97-205, 96 Stat. 131, amending 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973, were designed to overturn City of Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55 (1980). A substantial change of direction in Rogers v. Lodge, 458 U.S. 613 (1982), handed down coextensively with congressional enactment, seems to have brought Congress and the Court into essential alignment, thus avoiding a possible constitutional conflict.

[Footnote 127] See The Human Life Bill, Hearings before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, 97th Congress, lst sess. (1981). An elaborate constitutional analysis of the bill appears in Estreicher, Congressional Power and Constitutional Rights: Reflections on Proposed ''Human Life'' Legislation, 68 Va. L. Rev. 333 (1982).



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Annotations p. 40