Arizona v United States (1970) is a case about the right to vote at the federal level in the United States. The case arose because congress had passed amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights Act that extended the provisions of the original act for another five years. The amendments also standardized residency requirements for participation in national elections and, dramatically, lowered the voting age to eighteen years for national, state and local elections. Congress based its action on the enforcement languages of the Fifteenth Amendment. The legislation raised the issue of federalism anew because national legislators were attempting to regulate the time and manner of conducting state and local elections, a traditional prerogative of the states. When the issue came to the Supreme Court, the major question was whether Congress had the constitutional authority to lower the national minimum voting age.
In a decision with five opinions and no clear cut majority, the Court ruled that Congress did not have the power to so act with respect to state elections but did have the authority to set the voting age at eighteen in federal elections for Congress and the presidency. Four of the Justices believed that Congress had total power to regulate the voting age in any election, while four others believed that Congress has no such absolute power; Justice Hugo Black cast the deciding vote, concluding that Congress could regulate the voting age in national but not state elections.
To bring the confusion that followed the Court’s ruling to a quick end, Congress immediately adopted the 26th Amendment, which was ratified in short order. Reversing the court’s holding regarding voting age in state elections, the amendment states that the rights of citizens of the United States who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be abridged by the United States of any state on account of age. The constitutional context of the right to vote does not come from any explicit statement in the constitution that there is a right to vote. Originally, the states were granted the power over this decision and many states restricted the vote to white male land owners who were citizens of a specific age and possibly religious faith.
The case of Minor v Happersett (1875) saw the United States Supreme Court rejecting a claim by a Missouri woman that as a citizen the Constitution the right to vote. The Court rejected her claim, indicating that citizenship did not necessarily include the right to vote, states could decide that right under the original understanding of the Constitution expressed by the Court. After the Civil War, a series of constitutional amendments were adopted that addressed the right to vote. The 15th Amendment prohibited states from denying the right to vote on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. The 17th Amendment permitted the direct election of US Senators. The 19th Amendment enfranchised women. The 24th Amendment banned poll taxes. The 26th Amendment directed states to allow qualified citizens who were eighteen or older to vote. Finally, the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment came to be read as preventing states from enacting suffrage laws that conflict with fundamental principles of fairness, liberty and self-government. Yet none of these amendments affirmatively granted the right to vote.
It was not until the 1960s that the Supreme Court affirmatively addressed the constitutional right to vote. In Baker v Carr (1962), the court reversed its earlier decisions of Colegrove v. Green (1946), holding that the courts could hear disputes involving reapportionment and redistricting of electoral boundaries. The key case of Reynolds v Sims (1964) saw the court adopt the principle of equal representation for equal numbers which was the birth of the implied substantive due process protections for which the United States legal system is world renowned.