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Canonizing the Civil Rights Revolution: The People and the Poll Tax


Bruce Ackerman


Yale University - Law School

Jennifer Nou


University of Chicago - Law School


Northwestern Law Review, Vol. 103, 2009
Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 184

Abstract:     
The sun is setting on the civil rights revolution. Lived experience will no longer provide the historical context with which to interpret the constitutional contributions of the fading past. Only a series of careful, historically nuanced, studies will permit the profession to thoughtfully define the constitutional canon left behind by the civil rights movement. This Article offers an authoritative exploration of the understudied, yet highly revealing, process through which Americans abolished the poll-tax. Marshalling primary sources, it reveals how the Supreme Court's opinion in Harper v. Virginia erased the significance of earlier decisions by Congress, the President and the American people to abolish the poll-tax through the enactment of the Twenty-fourth Amendment and Section Ten of the Voting Rights Act. We argue that it is time for the profession to undo the Court's erasure and to redefine the "civil rights canon," granting a central place to both the amendment and the landmark statute. Our reinterpretation of the legal achievements of the civil rights generation permits new perspectives on a wide range of issues - ranging from Katzenbach v. Morgan to Buckley v. Valeo. It also permits a fundamental critique of the Court's recent decision in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, and the constitutionality of costly voter identification requirements.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 87

Keywords: poll tax, Twenty-fourth Amendment, Voting Rights Act, civil rights, constitutional canon, dynamic triangulation, campaign finance, voter identification

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Date posted: July 6, 2008 ; Last revised: February 15, 2009

Suggested Citation

Ackerman, Bruce and Nou, Jennifer, Canonizing the Civil Rights Revolution: The People and the Poll Tax. Northwestern Law Review, Vol. 103, 2009; Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 184. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1154242

Contact Information

Bruce Arnold Ackerman (Contact Author)
Yale University - Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
Jennifer Nou
University of Chicago - Law School ( email )
1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
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