Open main menu

United States Supreme Court

88 U.S. 162

Minor  v.  Happersett

ERROR to the Supreme Court of Missouri; the case being thus:

The fourteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States, in its first section, thus ordains: [1]

'All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States, and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction, the equal protection of the laws.'

And the constitution of the State of Missouri [2] thus ordains:

'Every male citizen of the United States shall be entitled to vote.'

Under a statute of the State all persons wishing to vote at any election, must previously have been registered in the manner pointed out by the statute, this being a condition precedent to the exercise of the elective franchise.

In this state of things, on the 15th of October, 1872 (one of the days fixed by law for the registration of voters), Mrs. Virginia Minor, a native born, free, white citizen of the United States, and of the State of Missouri, over the age of twenty-one years, wishing to vote for electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, and for a representative in Congress, and for other officers, at the general election held in November, 1872, applied to one Happersett, the registrar of voters, to register her as a lawful voter, which he refused to do, assigning for cause that she was not a 'male citizen of the United States,' but a woman. She thereupon sued him in one of the inferior State courts of Missouri, for wilfully refusing to place her name upon the list of registered voters, by which refusal she was deprived of her right to vote.

The registrar demurred, and the court in which the suit was brought sustained the demurrer, and gave judgment in his favor; a judgment which the Supreme Court affirmed. Mrs. Minor now brought the case here on error.

Mr. Francis Minor (with whom were Messrs. J. M. Krum and J. B. Henderson), for the plaintiff in error, went into an elaborate argument, partially based on what he deemed true political views, and partially resting on legal and constitutional grounds. These last seemed to be thus resolvable:

1st. As a citizen of the United States, the plaintiff was entitled to any and all the 'privileges and immunities' that belong to such position however defined; and as are held, exercised, and enjoyed by other citizens of the United States.

2d. The elective franchise is a 'privilege' of citizenship, in the highest sense of the word. It is the privilege preservative of all rights and privileges; and especially of the right of the citizen to participate in his or her government.

3d. The denial or abridgment of this privilege, if it exist at all, must be sought only in the fundamental charter of government,-the Constitution of the United States. If not found there, no inferior power or jurisdiction can legally claim the right to exercise it.

4th. But the Constitution of the United States, so far from recognizing or permitting any denial or abridgment of the privileges of its citizens, expressly declares that 'no State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.'

5th. If follows that the provisions of the Missouri constitution and registry law before recited, are in conflict with and must yield to the paramount authority of the Constitution of the United States.

No opposing counsel.

The CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the court.


^1  See other sections, infra, p. 174.

^2  Article 2, § 18.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).