Wayback Wednesday: Leser vs. Garnett 1922

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Nineteenth Amendment Image One
Photo Credit: triviatoday.com

The Nineteenth Amendent to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920, with Tennessee being the last state to vote in favor of, achieving the 3/4 majority needed to amend. One would think that this event would have been the end of any argument against a woman’s right to vote but, one more hurdle had to be cleared.

Ninety-seven years ago, today, the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling on the constitutionality of the amendment.

From Cornell Law (some case-law text):

On October 12, 1920, Cecilia Streett Waters and Mary D. Randolph, citizens of Maryland, applied for and were granted registration as qualified voters in Baltimore City. To have their names stricken from the list Oscar Leser and others brought this suit in the court of common pleas. The only ground of disqualification alleged was that the applicants for registration were women, whereas the Constitution of Maryland limits the suffrage to men. Ratification of the proposed amendment to the federal Constitution, now known as the Nineteenth, 41 Stat. 362, had been proclaimed on August 26, 1920, 41 Stat. 1823, pursuant to Revised Statutes, § 205 (Comp. St. § 303). The Legislature of Maryland had refused to ratify it. The petitioners contended, on several grounds, that the amendment had not become part of the federal Constitution. […] the case comes here on writ of error. That writ must be dismissed but, the petition for a writ of certiorari, also duly filed, is granted. The laws of Maryland authorize such a suit by a qualified voter against the board of registry. Whether the Nineteenth Amendment has become part of the federal Constitution is the question presented for decision.

Justice Brandeis Image Two
Photo Credit: law.edu

There were three claims:
[1] The power to amend the Constitution did not cover this amendment due to its character.

Quote from Leser:

“[…] the amendment “destroyed State autonomy” because it increased Maryland’s electorate without the state’s consent.”

[2] Several states that had ratified the amendment had constitutions that prohibited women from voting, rendering them unable to ratify an amendment to the contrary.

[3] The ratifications of Tennessee and West Virginia were invalid, because they were adopted without following the rules of legislative procedure in place in those states.

Justice Brandeis delivered the opinion of the Court:
[1] This amendment is in character and phraseology precisely similar to the Fifteenth. For each, the same method of adoption was pursued. One cannot be valid and the other invalid. That the Fifteenth is valid, although rejected by six states, including Maryland, has been recognized and acted on for half a century.

[2] […] But the function of a state Legislature in ratifying a proposed amendment to the federal Constitution, like the function of Congress in proposing the amendment, is a federal function derived from the federal Constitution and, it transcends any limitations sought to be imposed by the people of a state.

[3] The question raised may have been rendered immaterial by the fact that since the proclamation the Legislatures of two other states—Connecticut and Vermont—have adopted resolutions of ratification. But, a broader answer should be given to the contention. The proclamation by the Secretary certified that, from official documents on file in the Department of State, it appeared that the proposed amendment was ratified by the Legislatures of 36 states and, that it ‘has become valid to all intents and purposes as a part of the Constitution of the United States.’ As the Legislatures of Tennessee and of West Virginia had power to adopt the resolutions of ratification, official notice to the Secretary, duly authenticated, that they had done so, was conclusive upon him, and, being certified to by his proclamation, is conclusive upon the courts.

Quote From Time Magazine:

“So, while the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote, Leser made sure that the right could actually be used, even where the state constitution said otherwise. It’s not one of the more famous Supreme Court decisions in American history but, without it, the electorate would be, well, lesser.”

~Lily Rothman

As an addendum to the above, Maryland finally ratified the amendment on March 29, 1941 but, didn’t certify that until February 25, 1958, two days shy of an exact 36 year delay. And, I am sad to say that my home state of North Carolina didn’t ratify until May 6, 1971, making it third to last behind South Carolina (ratified July 1, 1969 but, not certified until August 22, 1973) and Mississippi (ratified March 22, 1984).

Little video snippet regarding this case:


And, I grew up watching Schoolhouse Rock, I just had to put this up:

7 thoughts on “Wayback Wednesday: Leser vs. Garnett 1922

    badfinger20 said:
    February 28, 2019 at 5:29 PM

    It mystifies me how this was dragged out.
    BTW…nice touch with Schoolhouse Rock… I have all of them somewhere…

    When I think of Baltimore I think of The Wire now since seeing it…not a fun place.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      February 28, 2019 at 10:55 PM

      There were many who were against blacks and women voting. Alters power structure…

      I can still sing the Preamble to the Constitution because of Schoolhouse Rock.

      I ain’t lost a damn thing in Maryland.

        badfinger20 said:
        February 28, 2019 at 10:58 PM

        Didn’t lose a thing there…
        They acted like women just cooked and cleaned…in some households they ran the show and controlled the money. They would have known more than the man.

        My families guitar business would have succeeded if they would have let my Aunt run the business part…but nooooo… couldn’t do that.

    JT Twissel said:
    February 28, 2019 at 6:19 PM

    Interesting. The fragility of our rights is frightening.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      February 28, 2019 at 10:55 PM

      I agree.

        bereavedandbeingasingleparent said:
        March 1, 2019 at 5:48 PM

        What’s the old phrase. Rights are granted and as such can be ungranted at any stage. Just needs a President to whip up resentment and then act accordingly…..

          The Hinoeuma responded:
          March 1, 2019 at 7:02 PM

          If folks would realize that the government governs via consent of the people… But, that would require putting the stupidphones down.

          *sigh* Unfortunately, the last & current Presidents just couldn’t (can’t) seem to keep their mouths shut when it came (comes) to personal opinions. The last one had us pitted against each other on racial lines. This one is pitting us against each other on economic ones. As long as we fight each other, THEY can do as they please.

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