Protecting the Core
of Political Equality
Core versus Contested Equality Principles
Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections1 and Lubin v. Panish,2 decided just eight years apart from one another, on the surface appear to be similar cases. Harper is the poll tax case described in detail in the previous chapter. In Lubin, following the Supreme Court's decision in Bullock v. Carter3 (a decision itself relying on Harper), the Court struck down on equal protection grounds a California law requiring candidates to pay filing fees as low as about $700. Both decisions limited the role that wealth or money may play in the allocation of political power, an idea I will refer to as the antiplutocracy principle.
Although both decisions stem from the antiplutocracy principle, there is a large gap between them. Harper aimed at the very core of the principle. A poll tax may deter people of different wealth levels from voting, but because of the declining marginal utility of money, the tax will have its strongest effect on the poor, who might have to choose between voting and eating. The right at issue in Harper, the right to vote, is central to any well-functioning democracy. Finally, as we saw from Justice Harlan's Harper dissent, by 1966 a near–social consensus had developed against the use of poll taxes.
Lubin's filing fee is a far cry from Harper's poll tax. The filing fee prevented no one from voting. It only marginally limited the choices of candidates available to voters. A filing fee of $700 (in 1976 dollars; worth about $2,200 in 2002 dollars) seems unlikely to deter serious candidates from running for election (except perhaps in the smallest local elections); even candidates who would be popular with poor voters need to raise substantially larger sums than $700 in order to run an effective campaign even in