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Katzenbach v. Morgan, 384 U.S. 641 (1966) p.998


Remedial and substantive powers of Congress: Section 5, 14th Amendment


Appellees, registered voters in New York City, brought this suit to challenge the constitutionality of 4 (e) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the extent that the provision prohibits enforcement of the statutory requirement for literacy in English as applied to numerous New York City residents from Puerto Rico who, because of that requirement, had previously been denied the right to vote. Section 4 (e) provides that no person who has completed the sixth grade in a public school, or an accredited private school, in Puerto Rico in which the language of instruction was other than English shall be denied the right to vote (disfranchised) for inability to read or write English.


A three-judge District Court granted appellees declaratory and injunctive relief, holding that in enacting 4 (e) Congress had exceeded its powers.


Whether Congress has the power to pass legislation regulating state voting practices.


Congress's power under the 14th Amendment extends to passing legislation that says a person does not need to be able to read and write in English in order to vote.


(a) Though the States have power to fix voting qualifications, they cannot do so contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment or any other constitutional provision.

(b) Congress' power under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment to enact legislation prohibiting enforcement of a state law is not limited to situations where the state law has been adjudged to violate the provisions of the Amendment which Congress sought to enforce. It is therefore the Court's task here to determine, not whether New York's English literacy requirement as applied violates the Equal Protection Clause, but whether Section 4 (e)'s prohibition against that requirement is "appropriate legislation" to enforce the Clause. Lassiter v. Northampton Election Bd., 360 U.S. 45, distinguished.

(c) Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment is a positive grant of legislative power authorizing Congress to exercise its discretion in determining the need for and nature of legislation to secure Fourteenth Amendment guarantees. The test of McCulloch v. Maryland, is to be applied to determine whether a congressional enactment is "appropriate legislation" under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.

(d) Section 4 (e) was enacted to enforce the Equal Protection Clause as a measure to secure nondiscriminatory treatment by government for numerous Puerto Ricans residing in New York, both in the imposition of voting qualifications and the provision or administration of governmental services.

(e) Congress had an adequate basis for deciding that 4 (e) was plainly adapted to that end.

(f) Section 4 (e) does not itself invidiously discriminate in violation of the Fifth Amendment for failure to extend relief to those educated in non-American flag schools. A reform measure such as Section 4 (e) is not invalid because Congress might have gone further than it did and did not eliminate all the evils at the same time.



Brennan wrote this majority decision. Brennan was from New Jersey, went to HLS, specialized in labor law, father big union leader in Newark. Was originally appointed in New Jersey state court, moving through different levels there. Eisenhaur wanted to appoint a democrat and a Catholic, so Brennan got the job. Eisenhaur later said the two big mistakes he made were Brennan and Earl Warren. Brennan was appointed in 1956 and retired in 1990.

If you give COngress the substantive power to say what is or is not an equal protection violation, what is to keep them from abusing this power? However, in a footnote, the COurt held that section 5 does not grant Congress power to exercise discretion in the other direction and to enact "statutes so as in effect to dilute equal protection and due process decisions of this Court." Congress can expand but not dilute equal protection (due process). This is known as the "one way rachet to expand."

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