As an attorney, Jordan and his firm, Jordan, Dawley & Holt, fought civil rights cases across the South during the 1960’s. One such case made constitutional history,
In November 1963 Jordan filed suit on behalf of Mrs. Evelyn Thomas Butts to have the state’s poll tax declared unconstitutional. The poll tax was a tax levied on individuals as a prerequisite for voting. Although levied on all voters regardless of race, the tax effectively disenfranchised the poor, including many African-Americans. The tax was outlawed nationally in January 1964 by ratification of the 24th amendment, but it only addressed federal elections and remained silent on state and local applicability.
Jordan’s suit was defeated nine times by local and state courts before finally working its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. In March 1966 the case became part of the landmark decision, Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections. Only six years out of law school, Jordan argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that Virginia’s poll tax should be struck down. The court agreed and ruled it unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Joseph A. Jordan went on to become the first black elected to the Norfolk City Council since 1889. He served three terms on the council, including two years as vice mayor. In 1977, he was appointed to Norfolk’s General District Court and retired in 1986.