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The Supreme Court did eventually invoke the Amendment to hold unconstitutional a few of the specific laws that sought to block African-Americans from effective political participation.

In , for example, the Court held unconstitutional rules that in some Southern states prohibited black citizens from voting in political primary elections. Smith v. Allwright In a well-known case, Gomillion v. Yet as of , it was still the case that in Mississippi, for example, only 6.

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The situation only began to change dramatically in , when Congress used its power to enforce the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Amendment by enacting the Voting Rights Act of the VRA. The VRA provided a variety of means for the federal government and the federal courts to ensure that the right to vote was not denied on the basis of race. In modern constitutional law, the Fifteenth Amendment plays a minor role. The reason is that other, broader sources of law have emerged to protect the right to vote.

In the s, the Supreme Court concluded that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right to vote as a general matter, while the Fifteenth Amendment is more limited to protecting against only race-based denials of the right to vote. In addition, federal statutes, such as the VRA and others, now exist to protect the right to vote as well.

Constitution of the United States of America

When cases involving issues of race and the vote are brought today, they will typically be brought simultaneously under the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the VRA. If a law explicitly imposes different rules by race for access to the ballot, there is little doubt the courts today would hold such a law to violate the Fifteenth Amendment.

Rice v. Cayetano But if a voting law does not impose different rules by race, and is challenged as nonetheless racially discriminatory, the Court has concluded that the challenger must show that the law is based on a racially-discriminatory purpose before the Fifteenth Amendment is violated. Mobile v.

- National Constitution Center

Bolden Although the Fifteenth Amendment does not play a major, independent role in cases today, its most important role might be the power it gives Congress to enact national legislation that protects against race-based denials or abridgements of the right to vote. Current controversies over the right to vote can be divided into two types of claims.

While voting regulations based explicitly on race are clearly unconstitutional under the Fifteenth Amendment, the situation grows more complicated when a practice is not explicitly race-based but may nonetheless depress minority voting. The first involves the ability to get to the ballot box and cast a vote: these are called first-generation voting rights claims, because they involve the basic right of being able to vote at all. The second involves the way election districts are designed, even once all eligible voters are properly able to vote; the way districts are designed can affect the distribution of political power between various groups in society, particularly the relationship between political majorities and minorities.

These kind of claims, about the fair design of election districts, are called second-generation voting-rights claims.

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That body of law established that most restrictions on who is qualified to vote other than those concerning citizenship, residency, and age under 18 will be subject to strict scrutiny—a very demanding standard, which requires the government to show restrictions are necessary to further a compelling governmental interest—and are likely to be unconstitutional. For several decades after this revolution, there was not a lot of controversy or constitutional cases involving the basic right of access to the ballot box for all adult resident citizens.

In the late s, however, constitutional and political controversies arose over how the process of voting was structured and regulated; these controversies did not concern, primarily, who was eligible to vote, but what the ground rules of elections would be. One type of controversy centered on what voters would have to do to prove that they were in fact eligible to vote.

The Fifteenth Amendment

A significant number of states passed new laws that required voters to provide more extensive proof and documentation of their identity such as various forms of photo identification before they would be allowed to vote. A smaller number of states passed new laws requiring voters to provide greater proof of their United States citizenship than had been required in the past. A second type of controversy emerged over how easy and convenient voting should be.

To make political participation easier and more accessible, a number of states in the early part of the s passed laws that permitted voters to register to vote at the same time that they cast their vote, as opposed to many weeks in advance of the election. A number of states that had made voting easier through these kinds of laws have decided in more recent years to cut back on the scope of these options, such as by reducing the number of days of early voting. These cutbacks on access to voting have also triggered constitutional controversies.

This essay is part of a discussion about the Fifteenth Amendment with Bradley A. Smith , Josiah H.


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Read the full discussion here. In virtually every state that has enacted new requirements for proof of eligibility to vote or cut back on access to voting, the laws were passed on straight party-line votes: Republicans vote in favor of these laws, Democrats against.

That has given an intensely partisan political cast to these constitutional controversies as well. Critics of these laws argue that 1 there is no significant need for new laws concerning proof of citizenship or identity because there is no real evidence that under the previous, long-standing laws, voters who were not eligible were actually voting; 2 these laws are likely to suppress voting and make it more difficult for eligible voters to vote; and 3 these laws are passed for partisan purposes because those more likely to vote Democratic are less likely to have the relevant documents, even when they are eligible to vote.

Proponents of these laws argue they help ensure the integrity of the political process. Similarly, critics argue that there is no good reason to cut back on methods that make it easier to vote and that the only reason for doing so is to make it harder for certain groups of voters to vote. The framework the courts will use to decide whether any of these laws are unconstitutional is set by modern cases like Crawford v. Marion County Election Board and Burdick v. In Crawford, the Court concluded that laws requiring proof of identity to vote are not per se unconstitutional, but left open the possibility that particular voter-identification laws might be unconstitutional if they imposed a severe burden on the right to vote without sufficient justification.

The Supreme Court is just beginning to sort these issues out. At the time of this writing, there are several major cases pending before the Court on these novel issues. The Constitution also requires that voters—and the ballots they cast—be treated equally during the voting process. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Share this: Twitter Facebook. Like this: Like Loading Leave a Reply Cancel reply Enter your comment here Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:. Email required Address never made public.

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