2. Minor v. Happerset
[Holding: The Fourteenth Amendment does not guarantee women the right to vote.]
[overruled by Amendment 19th, 1920]
[summary: Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 1Si (1875), is a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court held that the Constitution did not grant women the right to vote. The Supreme Court upheld state court decisions in Missouri, which had refused to register a woman as a lawful voter because that state's laws allowed only men to vote. The Minor v. Happersett ruling was based on an interpretation of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court readily accepted that Minor was a citizen of the United States, but it held that the constitutionally protected privileges of citizenship did not include the right to vote.
The Nineteenth Amendment, which became a part of the Constitution in 1920, effectively overruled Minor v. Happersett by prohibiting discrimination in voting rights based on sex. Minor v. Happersett continued to be cited in support of restrictive election laws of other types until the 1960s, when the Supreme Court started interpreting the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause to guarantee voting rights.
Virginia Minor, a leader of the women's suffrage movement in Missouri, attempted to register to vote on October 15, 1872, in St. Louis County, Missouri, but was refused on the grounds that she was a woman. With the assistance of her husband, Francis Minor (a lawyer), she brought an action in state courts against Reese Happersett, the registrar who had rejected her application to register to vote, alleging that the provisions of the Missouri state constitution which allowed only men to vote were in violation of the United States Constitution, and specifically the Fourteenth Amendment. The key to the Minors' argument was that citizenship entailed voting rights—an assertion with enough rhetoric on both sides to make it an open question.
Virginia Minor, whose attempts to register as a voter gave rise to the Minor v. Happersett case
The Missouri Supreme Court ruled in favor of the registrar and against Minor. The state court observed that the "almost universal practice of all of the States ... from the adoption of the Constitution to the present time" was to restrict voting rights to men only; and, additionally, that the clear intent of the Fourteenth Amendment was to give the rights of citizenship to the former slaves, and not to force other changes in state laws. The court noted, in particular, that the second section of the Fourteenth Amendment (penalizing states which denied the right to vote to any of its citizens) referred specifically to male citizens, and concluded that "this clearly recognizes the right, and seems to anticipate the exercise of the right, on the part of the States to restrict the right of suffrage to the male inhabitants."
Minor appealed the Missouri ruling to the United States Supreme Court, presenting the same arguments before the Supreme Court as had been unsuccessfully put forth before the state court, and additionally proposing that women's suffrage was consistent with the original intent of the framers of the Constitution. The Supreme Court observed that the sole point at issue was whether the Constitution entitled women to vote despite state laws limiting this right to men only. The state of Missouri did not send counsel to defend its decision before the Supreme Court, choosing instead to justify its decision in a three-sentence demurrer.
Opinion of the Court
Chief Justice Morrison Waite, who wrote the Minor v. Happersett opinion for a unanimous Supreme Court
The Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Missouri voting legislation, saying that voting was not an inherent right of citizenship, that the Constitution neither granted nor forbade voting rights for women, and that allowing only male citizens to vote was not an infringement of Minor's