Plaintiff: State of Oregon
Defendant: John N. Mitchell, U.S. Attorney General
Plaintiff's Claim: That certain provisions of the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1970 were unconstitutional because the U.S. Constitution reserves the right to regulate elections to the states.
Chief Lawyer for Plaintiff: Lee Johnson
Chief Lawyer for the Defense: Erwin N. Griswold
Justices for the Court: Hugo L. Black, Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, William O. Douglas, John Marshall Harlan II, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, Byron R. White
Date of Decision: December 21, 1970
Decision: Ruled largely in favor of the United States by finding that the eighteen-year-old minimum age requirement is valid for national elections but not for state and local elections. The act's ban on literacy tests and state residency requirements for voting in national elections was also upheld.
Significance: The decision allowed young adults eighteen years of age to vote in presidential and congressional elections, but left it to states to lower the age in their state and local elections. This split in authority created considerable confusion in state election systems.
Speaking to a U.S. Senate committee hearing in 1970, then Attorney General Ramsey Clark urged Congress to grant eighteen to twenty year old citizens the right vote. Forcefully, Clark noted,
Young people are skeptical . . . about our [government] institutions. But youth cares. Care as it may, it seems powerless . . . What can the 18-year-old do about war which seems unbearably cruel, starvation . . . racial discrimination . . . threats to the environment . . . Youth is excluded from the initial step in the decision process devised by our system of government — the vote . . . We must start our young people voting during their last year of high school . . . involve them in our system . . . in meaningful participation . . . If we do, the system will work . . . The 18-year-old vote is an essential element . . . of American democracy.
(Quoted from The Right to Vote. (1972) by Bill Severn, pg. 1)
Young adults, eighteen to twenty years of age, would be the last block of American to receive the right to vote in all elections, federal, state, and local with the ratification of the Twenty-sixth Amendment in July of 1971.
At the birth of the United States, only white males with property or wealth could vote. The Founding Fathers who wrote the U.S. Constitution in the 1780s left it to the states to decide who could vote. Consequently, gaining the right to vote for most Americans, such as black Americans and women, became a step by step battle spanning almost two hundred years. Young adults would also struggle for decades to gain the right to vote.
The concept that twenty-one was the age at which a boy became a man was long rooted in English common law. In the eleventh century a young man was not considered strong enough to bear the weight of armor and,