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The Supreme Court Declares that the Constitution Does Not Protect Women’s Right to Vote

Female suffragists were disappointed when the final language of the 15th Amendment did not specifically protect the right of women to vote. Some women activists opposed the amendment for this reason. Virginia Minor was one of those activists. Partly inspired by western territories granting universal suffrage, partly to test how well the 14th and 15th Amendment would protect women’s rights, Minor tried to register to vote in 1872. After she was denied, Minor and her husband sued the registrar; the case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court. The court delivered this unanimous decision.

The question is presented in this case, whether, since the adoption of the 14th amendment, a woman, who is a citizen of the United States…has the right of suffrage… 

There is no doubt that women may be citizens…sex has never been made one of the elements of citizenship in the United States. In this respect men have never had an advantage over women… The direct question is…whether all citizens are necessarily voters. 

It certainly is nowhere made so in express terms. …It cannot for a moment be doubted that if it had been intended to make all citizens of the United States voters, the framers of the Constitution would not have left it to implication. 

…[It] is now too late to contend that a government is not republican…because women are not made voters… If suffrage was intended to be included within its obligations, language better adapted to express that intent would have been employed. 

…If the law is wrong, it ought to be changed; but the power for that is not with us… No argument as to woman’s need of suffrage can be considered. We can only act upon her rights as they exist…

Source | U.S. Supreme Court, Minor vs. Happersett, 1875; in Linda K. Kerber and Jane De Hart Matthews, Women’s America; Refocusing the Past (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).
Creator | U.S. Supreme Court
Item Type | Laws/Court Cases
Cite This document | U.S. Supreme Court, “The Supreme Court Declares that the Constitution Does Not Protect Women’s Right to Vote,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed May 26, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1688.

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