“Suit Seeks End of Virginia Poll Tax for Voting” (December 7, 1963)


In this article, published December 7, 1963, in the Norfolk Journal and Guide, Evelyn Butts states her reasons for filing suit against Governor Albertis S. Harrison Jr. and three Norfolk city employees: the unconstitutionality of the poll tax. Her case was combined with another case under the name Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections, and on March 24, 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the poll tax was unconstitutional. In 1962, as Congress debated the Twenty-Fourth Amendment banning poll taxes in federal elections, Governor Harrison reaffirmed his support for the poll tax in Virginia’s state and local elections.


State Law Challenged by Action

Brief Filed In Federal Court By Norfolk Resident

Norfolk—A suit was filed in the U. S. District Court in Norfolk Friday contending that Virginia’s poll tax as a prerequisite for voting is unconstitutional.

The suit, filed as a “class action” by Mrs. Evelyn Butts, is a challenge to the poll tax legislation of the recent special session of the General Assembly. The legislators at the request of Governor Albertis S. Harrison Jr. retained the poll tax in state and local elections and enacted a law making it mandatory for persons who do not pay the poll tax and wish to vote in federal elections to secure a certificate of residency.

The suit calls for appointment of a three-judge court to consider arguments on the question of the poll tax validity under the constitution. It also challenges the validity of Virginia’s present constitution, claiming that it was never ratified by the state’s voters.

Though filed in Judge Walter E. Hoffman’s court, it will have to be sent to Judge Simon E. Sobeloff of Baltimore, chief judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals, who under normal conditions would appoint the three-judge court to include Judge Hoffman and one circuit judge.

Mrs. Butts’ suit was filed by Joseph A. Jordan J. of Norfolk and Len W. Holt, formerly of Norfolk and now of Washington, D. C.

Named as respondents in the suit are Gov. Albertis S. Harrison Jr., Miss Mary Dudley, Norfolk city registrar; Norfolk City Treasurer Alex H. Bell, and William Pieu, clerk of Corporation Court of Norfolk City.

Mrs. Butts charges “that the poll tax penalty incorporated into the constitution of 1902 was designed to, and has provided a barometer for surveillance right of unfettered suffrage, all in violation of the rights granted under the United States Constitution.”

She also charged that:

“Deprivation of the right to vote, of whomsoever, by whatsoever means, including the imposition of a poll tax penalty, is inherently repulsive to democracy, and has been too long tolerated by the citizens of Virginia. These pleadings propose to end this tolerance.”

Mrs. Butts insists that the laws she claims deprive her right to vote “are in fact not laws at all, for the acts of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1902 have never been ratified by a vote of the electorate by the convention mandate.”

Her suit requests the three-judge court to issue a declaratory judgment banning the poll tax laws null and void and to issue a permanent injunction restraining officers from enforcing the laws.

Thirty-two states had ratified the pending amendment to U. S. Constitution by April 25 outlawing the poll tax in federal elections. Thirty-eight states must ratify the amendment for it to become effective.

APA Citation:
Guide, Norfolk Journal and. “Suit Seeks End of Virginia Poll Tax for Voting” (December 7, 1963). (2023, June 28). In Encyclopedia Virginia.
MLA Citation:
Guide, Norfolk Journal and. "“Suit Seeks End of Virginia Poll Tax for Voting” (December 7, 1963)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (28 Jun. 2023). Web. 16 Jun. 2024
Last updated: 2023, June 28
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.