On February 27, 1922, the United States Supreme Court unanimously dismissed a challenge to the 19thAmendment to the United States Constitution.
Passed by Congress in 1919 and ratified in 1920, the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote. The text of the amendment reads as follows: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” The amendment was the culmination of nearly a century of organizing, protests, and petitions for women’s right to vote.
After the monumental achievement of ratification, the new amendment still had to survive a legal challenge. In Leser v. Garnett, a prominent lawyer from Baltimore, Oscar Leser, sued to have women stricken from voting roles. Leser argued that the provision of Maryland’s constitution that limited suffrage to men was still in effect because the state’s legislature had refused to ratify the amendment. He also argued that procedural deficiences with the ratification process in various states meant the 19th Amendment had failed to secure the required approval of three-fourths of states.
The Court rejected each of Leser’s arguments. It pointed out that fifty years earlier, the 15th Amendment, which prohibited the use of race as a qualification for voting, went into national effect despite having been rejected by six states (including Maryland). The Court stated that the amendment process, as outlined in Article V of the Constitution, could not be limited by provisions of state constitutions. The Court also dismissed Leser’s procedural claims.
Maryland would not certify the 19th Amendment until 1958.
This Post was Written by ISCOTUS Fellow James O’Brien, Chicago-Kent Class of 2021, and edited by ISCOTUS Co-Director and Chicago-Kent Faculty Member Christopher W. Schmidt.