Apportionment of Representation

SECTION 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.


With the abolition of slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment, African-Americans, who formerly counted as three-fifths of a person, would be fully counted in the apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives, increasing as well the electoral vote, and there appeared the prospect that the readmitted Southern states would gain a political advantage in Congress when combined with Democrats from the North. Because the South was adamantly opposed to African-American suffrage, all the congressmen would be elected by whites. Many wished to provide for the enfranchisement of African-Americans and proposals to this effect were voted on in both the House and the Senate, but only a few Northern states permitted African-Americans to vote and a series of referenda on the question in Northern States revealed substantial white hostility to the proposal. Therefore, a compromise was worked out, to effect a reduction in the representation of any state that discriminated against males in the franchise.2185

No serious effort was ever made in Congress to effectuate § 2, and the only judicial attempt was rebuffed.2186 With subsequent constitutional amendments adopted and the use of federal coercive powers to enfranchise persons, the section is little more than an historical curiosity.2187

However, in Richardson v. Ramirez,2188 the Court relied upon the implied approval of disqualification upon conviction of crime to uphold a state law disqualifying convicted felons for the franchise even after the service of their terms. It declined to assess the state interests involved and to evaluate the necessity of the rule, holding rather that because of § 2 the Equal Protection Clause was simply inapplicable.

2185 See generally J. James, The Framing Of The Fourteenth Amendment (1956).

2186 Saunders v. Wilkins, 152 F.2d 235 (4th Cir. 1945), cert. denied, 328 U.S. 870 (1946).

2187 The section did furnish a basis to Justice Harlan to argue that inasmuch as § 2 recognized a privilege to discriminate subject only to the penalty provided, the Court was in error in applying § 1 to questions relating to the franchise. Compare Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112, 152 (1970) (Justice Harlan concurring and dissenting), with id. at 229, 250 (Justice Brennan concurring and dissenting). The language of the section recognizing 21 as the usual minimum voting age no doubt played some part in the Court’s decision in Oregon v. Mitchell as well. It should also be noted that the provision relating to “Indians not taxed” is apparently obsolete now in light of an Attorney General ruling that all Indians are subject to taxation. 39 Op. Att’y Gen. 518 (1940).

2188 418 U.S. 24 (1974). Justices Marshall, Douglas, and Brennan dissented. Id. at 56, 86.

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