Background of the 15th Amendment

Background of the 15th Amendment



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The 15th Amendment was the last of the “Reconstruction Amendments” to be adopted. Previously, the states had had full responsibility for determining voter qualifications.Reasons for supporting the amendment are not immediately evident, but they went far beyond an idealistic desire to spread the fruits of democracy to former slaves.In the Election of 1868, Grant achieved a narrow majority of the popular votes nationwide. His support from black voters in the South made the difference. The largest state Grant lost was New York (home state of Horatio Seymour, his opponent), which was conceded by a narrow margin. Blacks could not vote in the North - if they had had that right, Grant would have taken New York.The main impetus behind the 15th Amendment was the Republican desire to entrench its power in both the North and the South. Black votes would help accomplish that end.The measure was passed by Congress in 1869, and was quickly ratified by the requisite three-fourths of the states in 1870. Republicans still controlled the state governments in the South, so the expected opposition lacked the means to block the amendment.Was the 15th Amendment successful? Yes and no. It did provide the vote to blacks living in northern states, and it did encourage voting by blacks in the South for a period of time.Opposition in the former Confederate states developed quickly and took many forms—violent voter intimidation initially and later through grandfather clauses and poll taxes.The full impact of the amendment would not be felt in the South for nearly a century.


Key Facts & Information

BACKGROUND

  • This amendment was the third of the three Reconstruction Amendments including the 13th and 14th amendments.
  • When the Civil War ended, amendments were done in order to free the slaves in the United States.
  • The 13th Amendment ended slavery and the 14th Amendment gave the freed slaves equal rights as U.S. Citizens.
  • The 15th Amendment protects the voting rights of all citizens regardless of race and color.
  • The amendment was ratified after the Civil War.
  • The amendment paved the way in granting African-American people the right to vote.
  • It was adopted into the U.S. Constitution in 1870.
  • Three drafts of the 15th Amendment were made.
  • The first draft gave all male citizens aged 21 and above the right to vote.
  • The second draft prevented states from holding back the voting rights based on a person’s literacy capacity, the person’s owned property, and their birth place.
  • The final draft was what the Congress approved.
  • The amendment was very important because it finally gave African-Americans the chance and right to vote and to be elected into public office.
  • Once the African-Americans were seated, they proposed laws for children to be provided with schools and for people of different races to be married.
  • The winning presidency of Ulysses S. Grant back in 1868 was made possible by the free black voters in the South.
  • When the U.S. Army departed the South, white people of the South defended themselves and passed laws that prevented African-Americans from voting.
  • Discriminatory practices were observed to prevent African-Americans to practice their rights.
  • These practices were abolished when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were implemented.
  • Legal barriers were banned at local and state levels if blacks were denied of their right to vote by the 15th Amendment.
  • The first state to ratify it was Nevada.
  • The state of Tennessee did not ratify the amendment until the year 1997.

SECTION 1

  • “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

SECTION 2

EFFECTS

  • African-Americans in the U.S. were not immediately able to vote.
  • The 15th Amendment did not have much of a change for almost a century on African-Americans voting in the South.
  • People in the South used different methods to prevent African-Americans from voting.
  • Poll taxes were observed to keep African-Americans from voting.
  • Poll taxes were fees a person was required to pay.
  • White people were exempted from this type of tax because of the “grandfather clause” which explains that if their grandfather voted in the last election, they didn’t have to pay the fee.
  • Literacy tests were also done to prevent African-American people from voting.
  • These tests had to be passed by people in order for them to vote.
  • The grandfather clause was also a basis of this test.
  • Another way to keep the blacks from voting was the White Primary System.
  • The Democrats in several states made up their own rules that would not allow blacks to vote.
  • Intimidation was also used to keep them from voting and this resulted in violence.
  • All these practices were called disenfranchisement.
  • Even if the 15th Amendment was implemented, many African-American people were disenfranchised until new laws were proposed and passed in 1965.
  • In order to settle this problem, the Congress approved the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
  • It stated that all Americans, regardless of color and race, had the right to vote.
  • However, overcoming these problems on a case-to-case basis was unsuccessful. was proposed to remove further barriers in voting.

VOTING RIGHTS ACT OF 1965

  • This act was amended by the Congress five times in order to extend its protections.
  • This was approved in order to make sure that no citizen was refused the right to vote.
  • This was considered to be the act to implement the 15th amendment to the Constitution.
  • It banned the literacy tests and other disenfranchisement acts.
  • The act directed the Attorney General to eradicate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.

15th Amendment Worksheets

This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about 15th Amendment across 23 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use 15th Amendment worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the 15th Amendment which is included in the three amendments made in the Reconstruction Amendments of the U.S. Constitution ratified after the Civil War. This amendment aims to protect the voting rights of all citizens regardless of race and color. It also protected the voting rights of the freed slaves, as permitted by the 13th amendment. The said amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870.

Complete List Of Included Worksheets

  • US Civil War: 15th Amendment Facts
  • The Need For The 15th
  • Decode It!
  • Drafted and Ratified
  • Important People
  • Effects Of The 15th
  • Voting Rights Act
  • Comic Analysis
  • Narrow Interpretations
  • Equal Rights
  • Reconstruction Amendments

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Fifteenth Amendment

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Fifteenth Amendment, amendment (1870) to the Constitution of the United States that guaranteed that the right to vote could not be denied based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The amendment complemented and followed in the wake of the passage of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments, which abolished slavery and guaranteed citizenship, respectively, to African Americans. The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and its subsequent ratification (February 3, 1870) effectively enfranchised African American men while denying the right to vote to women of all colours. Women would not receive that right until the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.

The full text of the Fifteenth Amendment is:

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude—

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

After the Civil War, during the period known as Reconstruction (1865–77), the amendment was successful in encouraging African Americans to vote. Many African Americans were even elected to public office during the 1880s in the states that formerly had constituted the Confederate States of America. By the 1890s, however, efforts by several states to enact such measures as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses—in addition to widespread threats and violence—had completely reversed those trends. By the beginning of the 20th century, nearly all African Americans in the states of the former Confederacy were again disenfranchised.

Poll taxes in federal elections were abolished by the Twenty-fourth Amendment (1964), and in 1966 the Supreme Court extended that ban to state and local elections. The Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 abolished prerequisites to registration and voting and also allowed for federal “preclearance” of changes in election laws in certain (“covered”) jurisdictions, including nine mostly Southern states. In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), however, the Supreme Court struck down the section of the VRA that had been used to identify covered jurisdictions, effectively making the preclearance requirement unenforceable.


The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution

The 15th Amendment guaranteed African-American men the right to vote. Almost immediately after ratification, African Americans began to take part in running for office and voting.

Geography, Human Geography, Social Studies, U.S. History

Voters in 1950s Harlem

The United States' 15th Amendment made voting legal for African-American men. However, voting for them was almost nonexistent in some places, especially in the South, because of threats, violence, and unethical practices, like poll taxes. Here, people in Harlem, New York City, around 1954, wait to vote.

Photograph by Bettman/Getty Images

The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on February 3, 1870. The amendment reads, &ldquoThe right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.&rdquo The 15th Amendment guaranteed African-American men the right to vote. In addition, the right to vote could not be denied to anyone in the future based on a person&rsquos race.

Although African-American men technically had their voting rights protected, in practice, this victory was short-lived. Local and state governments found ways to weaken the amendment to prevent African Americans from voting. Disenfranchisement is the word used to describe laws passed to prevent people from voting and obtaining rights other citizens have.

The actions to prevent African Americans from exercising their civil rights became known as &ldquoJim Crow&rdquo laws. Some examples of Jim Crow laws are poll taxes (a fee required to vote&mdashgenerally not applied to white voters), literacy tests (the Mississippi test asked applicants to copy a portion of the state constitution at the white administrator's discretion), or owning property as a condition of voting. Jim Crow laws were enforced by election boards or by groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, who intimidated African Americans with violence if they voted or wished to do so. The southern region of the United States made little or no effort to protect the voting rights of African Americans guaranteed by the Constitution.

The 15th Amendment was a milestone for civil rights. However, it was not until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by Congress that the majority of African Americans would be truly free to register and vote in large numbers.

The United States' 15th Amendment made voting legal for African-American men. However, voting for them was almost nonexistent in some places, especially in the South, because of threats, violence, and unethical practices, like poll taxes. Here, people in Harlem, New York City, around 1954, wait to vote.


Contents

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. [2]

In the final years of the American Civil War and the Reconstruction Era that followed, Congress repeatedly debated the rights of black former slaves freed by the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 1865 Thirteenth Amendment, the latter of which had formally abolished slavery. Following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment by Congress, however, Republicans grew concerned over the increase it would create in the congressional representation of the Democratic-dominated Southern states. Because the full population of freed slaves would be now counted rather than the three-fifths mandated by the previous Three-Fifths Compromise, the Southern states would dramatically increase their power in the population-based House of Representatives. [3] Republicans hoped to offset this advantage by attracting and protecting votes of the newly enfranchised black population. [4] [5] [6]

In 1865, Congress passed what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1866, guaranteeing citizenship without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude. The bill also guaranteed equal benefits and access to the law, a direct assault on the Black Codes passed by many post-war Southern states. The Black Codes attempted to return ex-slaves to something like their former condition by, among other things, restricting their movement, forcing them to enter into year-long labor contracts, prohibiting them from owning firearms, and by preventing them from suing or testifying in court. [7] Although strongly urged by moderates in Congress to sign the bill, President Johnson vetoed it on March 27, 1866. In his veto message, he objected to the measure because it conferred citizenship on the freedmen at a time when 11 out of 36 states were unrepresented in the Congress, and that it discriminated in favor of African Americans and against whites. [8] [9] Three weeks later, Johnson's veto was overridden and the measure became law. This was the first time in American history that Congress was able to muster the votes necessary to override a presidential veto. [10] Despite this victory, even some Republicans who had supported the goals of the Civil Rights Act began to doubt that Congress possessed the constitutional power to turn those goals into laws. [11] [12] The experience encouraged both radical and moderate Republicans to seek Constitutional guarantees for black rights, rather than relying on temporary political majorities. [13]

On June 18, 1866, Congress adopted the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship and equal protection under the laws regardless of race, and sent it to the states for ratification. After a bitter struggle that included attempted rescissions of ratification by two states, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted on July 28, 1868. [14]

Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment punished, by reduced representation in the House of Representatives, any state that disenfranchised any male citizens over 21 years of age. By failing to adopt a harsher penalty, this signaled to the states that they still possessed the right to deny ballot access based on race. [15] Northern states were generally as averse to granting voting rights to blacks as Southern states. In the year of its ratification, only eight Northern states allowed blacks to vote. [16] In the South, blacks were able to vote in many areas, but only through the intervention of the occupying Union Army. [17] Before Congress had granted suffrage to blacks in the territories by passing the Territorial Suffrage Act on on January 10, 1867 (Source: Congressional Globe, 39th Congress, 2nd Session, pp. 381-82), [18] [19] blacks were granted the right to vote in the District of Columbia on January 8, 1867. [20]

Proposal Edit

Anticipating an increase in Democratic membership in the following Congress, Republicans used the lame-duck session of the 40th United States Congress to pass an amendment protecting black suffrage. [21] Representative John Bingham, the primary author of the Fourteenth Amendment, pushed for a wide-ranging ban on suffrage limitations, but a broader proposal banning voter restriction on the basis of "race, color, nativity, property, education, or religious beliefs" was rejected. [22] A proposal to specifically ban literacy tests was also rejected. [21] Some Representatives from the North, where nativism was a major force, wished to preserve restrictions denying the franchise to foreign-born citizens, as did Representatives from the West, where ethnic Chinese were banned from voting. [22] Both Southern and Northern Republicans also wanted to continue to deny the vote temporarily to Southerners disenfranchised for support of the Confederacy, and they were concerned that a sweeping endorsement of suffrage would enfranchise this group. [23]

A House and Senate conference committee proposed the amendment's final text, which banned voter restriction only on the basis of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude." [2] To attract the broadest possible base of support, the amendment made no mention of poll taxes or other measures to block voting, and did not guarantee the right of blacks to hold office. [24] This compromise proposal was approved by the House on February 25, 1869, and the Senate the following day. [25] [26]

The vote in the House was 144 to 44, with 35 not voting. The House vote was almost entirely along party lines, with no Democrats supporting the bill and only 3 Republicans voting against it, [27] some because they thought the amendment did not go far enough in its protections. [26] [28] The House of Representatives passed the amendment, with 143 Republicans and one Conservative Republican voting "Yea" and 39 Democrats, three Republicans, one Independent Republican and one Conservative voting "No" 26 Republicans, eight Democrats, and one Independent Republican did not vote. [29] The final vote in the Senate was 39 to 13, with 14 not voting. [30] The Senate passed the amendment, with 39 Republicans voting "Yea" and eight Democrats and five Republicans voting "Nay" 13 Republicans and one Democrat did not vote. [31] Some Radical Republicans, such as Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, abstained from voting because the amendment did not prohibit literacy tests and poll taxes. [32] Following congressional approval, the proposed amendment was then sent by Secretary of State William Henry Seward to the states for ratification or rejection. [26]

Ratification Edit

Though many of the original proposals for the amendment had been moderated by negotiations in committee, the final draft nonetheless faced significant hurdles in being ratified by three-fourths of the states. Historian William Gillette wrote of the process, "it was hard going and the outcome was uncertain until the very end." [21]

One source of opposition to the proposed amendment was the women's suffrage movement, which before and during the Civil War had made common cause with the abolitionist movement. However, with the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment, which had explicitly protected only male citizens in its second section, activists found the civil rights of women divorced from those of blacks. [15] Matters came to a head with the proposal of the Fifteenth Amendment, which barred race discrimination but not sex discrimination in voter laws. After an acrimonious debate, the American Equal Rights Association, the nation's leading suffragist group, split into two rival organizations: the National Woman Suffrage Association of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who opposed the amendment, and the American Woman Suffrage Association of Lucy Stone and Henry Browne Blackwell, who supported it. The two groups remained divided until the 1890s. [35]

Nevada was the first state to ratify the amendment, on March 1, 1869. [26] The New England states and most Midwest states also ratified the amendment soon after its proposal. [21] Southern states still controlled by Radical reconstruction governments, such as North Carolina, also swiftly ratified. [25] Newly elected President Ulysses S. Grant strongly endorsed the amendment, calling it "a measure of grander importance than any other one act of the kind from the foundation of our free government to the present day." He privately asked Nebraska's governor to call a special legislative session to speed the process, securing the state's ratification. [21] In April and December 1869, Congress passed Reconstruction bills mandating that Virginia, Mississippi, Texas and Georgia ratify the amendment as a precondition to regaining congressional representation all four states did so. [26] The struggle for ratification was particularly close in Indiana and Ohio, which voted to ratify in May 1869 and January 1870, respectively. [21] [26] New York, which had ratified on April 14, 1869, tried to revoke its ratification on January 5, 1870. However, in February 1870, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, and Texas ratified the amendment, bringing the total ratifying states to twenty-nine—one more than the required twenty-eight ratifications from the thirty-seven states, and forestalling any court challenge to New York's resolution to withdraw its consent. [26]

The first twenty-eight states to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment were: [36]

    : March 1, 1869 : March 3, 1869 : March 5, 1869 : March 5, 1869 : March 5, 1869 : March 8, 1869 : March 9, 1869 : March 11, 1869 : March 12, 1869 : March 15, 1869 : March 15, 1869 : March 25, 1869 : April 14, 1869 (Rescinded ratification: January 5, 1870 re-ratified: March 30, 1870) : May 14, 1869 : May 19, 1869 : June 14, 1869 : July 1, 1869 : October 8, 1869 : October 20, 1869 : November 16, 1869 : January 10, 1870 : January 13, 1870 : January 17, 1870 : January 18, 1870 : January 19, 1870 : January 27, 1870 (After rejection: April 1/30, 1869) : February 2, 1870 : February 3, 1870

Secretary of State Hamilton Fish certified the amendment on March 30, 1870, [26] [37] also including the ratifications of:

The remaining seven states all subsequently ratified the amendment: [38]

    : February 15, 1871 (after rejection: March 17/18, 1870) : February 12, 1901 (after rejection: March 17/18, 1869) : February 24, 1959 (after rejection: October 26, 1870) : April 3, 1962 (after rejection: January 28, 1870) : May 7, 1973 (after rejection: February 4/26, 1870) : March 18, 1976 (after rejection: March 11/12, 1869) : April 8, 1997 (after rejection: November 16, 1869)

The amendment's adoption was met with widespread celebrations in black communities and abolitionist societies many of the latter disbanded, feeling that black rights had been secured and their work was complete. President Grant said of the amendment that it "completes the greatest civil change and constitutes the most important event that has occurred since the nation came to life." [21] Many Republicans felt that with the amendment's passage, black Americans no longer needed federal protection congressman and future president James A. Garfield stated that the amendment's passage "confers upon the African race the care of its own destiny. It places their fortunes in their own hands." [24] Congressman John R. Lynch later wrote that ratification of those two amendments made Reconstruction a success. [39]

In the year of the 150th anniversary of the Fifteenth Amendment Columbia University history professor and historian Eric Foner said about the Fifteenth Amendment as well as its history during the Reconstruction era and Post-Reconstruction era:

It's a remarkable accomplishment given that slavery was such a dominant institution before the Civil War. But the history of the 15th Amendment also shows rights can never be taken for granted: Things can be achieved and things can be taken away. [40]

Reconstruction Edit

African Americans called the amendment the nation's "second birth" and a "greater revolution than that of 1776" according to historian Eric Foner in his book The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution. [40] The first black person known to vote after the amendment's adoption was Thomas Mundy Peterson, who cast his ballot on March 31, 1870, in a Perth Amboy, New Jersey referendum election adopting a revised city charter. [41] African Americans—many of them newly freed slaves—put their newfound freedom to use, voting in scores of black candidates. During Reconstruction, 16 black men served in Congress and 2,000 black men served in elected local, state and federal positions according to Columbia University history professor Eric Foner. [40]

In United States v. Reese (1876), [42] the first U.S. Supreme Court decision interpreting the Fifteenth Amendment, the Court interpreted the amendment narrowly, upholding ostensibly race-neutral limitations on suffrage including poll taxes, literacy tests, and a grandfather clause that exempted citizens from other voting requirements if their grandfathers had been registered voters. [43] [44] The Court also stated that the amendment does not confer the right of suffrage, but it invests citizens of the United States with the right of exemption from discrimination in the exercise of the elective franchise on account of their race, color, or previous condition of servitude, and empowers Congress to enforce that right by "appropriate legislation". [45] The Court wrote:

The Fifteenth Amendment does not confer the right of suffrage upon anyone. It prevents the States, or the United States, however, from giving preference, in this particular, to one citizen of the United States over another on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Before its adoption, this could be done. It was as much within the power of a State to exclude citizens of the United States from voting on account of race, &c., as it was on account of age, property, or education. Now it is not. If citizens of one race having certain qualifications are permitted by law to vote, those of another having the same qualifications must be. Previous to this amendment, there was no constitutional guaranty against this discrimination: now there is. It follows that the amendment has invested the citizens of the United States with a new constitutional right which is within the protecting power of Congress. That right is an exemption from discrimination in the exercise of the elective franchise on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. This, under the express provisions of the second section of the amendment, Congress may enforce by "appropriate legislation". [45]

White supremacists, such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), used paramilitary violence to prevent blacks from voting. A number of blacks were killed at the Colfax massacre of 1873 while attempting to defend their right to vote. The Enforcement Acts were passed by Congress in 1870–1871 to authorize federal prosecution of the KKK and others who violated the amendment. [46] However, as Reconstruction neared its end and federal troops withdrew, prosecutions under the Enforcement Acts dropped significantly. In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government did not have the authority to prosecute the perpetrators of the Colfax massacre because they were not state actors. [47] [48] [a]

Congress further weakened the acts in 1894 by removing a provision against conspiracy. [48] In 1877, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes was elected president after a highly contested election, receiving support from three Southern states in exchange for a pledge to allow white Democratic governments to rule without federal interference. As president, he refused to enforce federal civil rights protections, [49] allowing states to begin to implement racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws. A Federal Elections Bill (the Lodge Bill of 1890) was successfully filibustered in the Senate. [50]

Post-Reconstruction Edit

From 1890 to 1910, poll taxes and literacy tests were instituted across the South, effectively disenfranchising the great majority of black men. White male-only primary elections also served to reduce the influence of black men in the political system. Along with increasing legal obstacles, blacks were excluded from the political system by threats of violent reprisals by whites in the form of lynch mobs and terrorist attacks by the Ku Klux Klan. [43] Some Democrats even advocated a repeal of the amendment, such as William Bourke Cockran of New York. [51]

In the 20th century, the Court began to read the Fifteenth Amendment more broadly. [48] In Guinn v. United States (1915), [52] a unanimous Court struck down an Oklahoma grandfather clause that effectively exempted white voters from a literacy test, finding it to be discriminatory. The Court ruled in the related case Myers v. Anderson (1915), that the officials who enforced such a clause were liable for civil damages. [53] [54]

The Court addressed the white primary system in a series of decisions later known as the "Texas primary cases". In Nixon v. Herndon (1927), [55] Dr. Lawrence A. Nixon sued for damages under federal civil rights laws after being denied a ballot in a Democratic party primary election on the basis of race. The Court found in his favor on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law, while not discussing his Fifteenth Amendment claim. [56] After Texas amended its statute to allow the political party's state executive committee to set voting qualifications, Nixon sued again in Nixon v. Condon (1932), [57] the Court again found in his favor on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment. [58]

Following Nixon, the Democratic Party's state convention instituted a rule that only whites could vote in its primary elections the Court unanimously upheld this rule as constitutional in Grovey v. Townsend (1935), distinguishing the discrimination by a private organization from that of the state in the previous primary cases. [59] [60] However, in United States v. Classic (1941), [61] the Court ruled that primary elections were an essential part of the electoral process, undermining the reasoning in Grovey. Based on Classic, the Court in Smith v. Allwright (1944), [62] overruled Grovey, ruling that denying non-white voters a ballot in primary elections was a violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. [63] In the last of the Texas primary cases, Terry v. Adams (1953), [64] the Court ruled that black plaintiffs were entitled to damages from a group that organized whites-only pre-primary elections with the assistance of Democratic party officials. [65]

The Court also used the amendment to strike down a gerrymander in Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960). [66] The decision found that the redrawing of city limits by Tuskegee, Alabama officials to exclude the mostly black area around the Tuskegee Institute discriminated on the basis of race. [48] [67] The Court later relied on this decision in Rice v. Cayetano (2000), [68] which struck down ancestry-based voting in elections for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs the ruling held that the elections violated the Fifteenth Amendment by using "ancestry as a racial definition and for a racial purpose". [69]

After judicial enforcement of the Fifteenth Amendment ended grandfather clauses, white primaries, and other discriminatory tactics, Southern black voter registration gradually increased, rising from five percent in 1940 to twenty-eight percent in 1960. [48] Although the Fifteenth Amendment was never interpreted to prohibit poll taxes, in 1962 the Twenty-fourth Amendment was adopted banning poll taxes in federal elections, and in 1966 the Supreme Court ruled in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections (1966) [70] that state poll taxes violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. [71] [72]

Congress used its authority pursuant to Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, achieving further racial equality in voting. Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act required states and local governments with histories of racial discrimination in voting to submit all changes to their voting laws or practices to the federal government for approval before they could take effect, a process called "preclearance". By 1976, sixty-three percent of Southern blacks were registered to vote, a figure only five percent less than that for Southern whites. [48]

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Sections 4 and 5 in South Carolina v. Katzenbach (1966). However, in Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court ruled that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which established the coverage formula that determined which jurisdictions were subject to preclearance, was no longer constitutional and exceeded Congress's enforcement authority under Section 2 of the Fifteenth Amendment. The Court declared that the Fifteenth Amendment "commands that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race or color, and it gives Congress the power to enforce that command. The Amendment is not designed to punish for the past its purpose is to ensure a better future." [73] According to the Court, "Regardless of how to look at the record no one can fairly say that it shows anything approaching the 'pervasive', 'flagrant', 'widespread', and 'rampant' discrimination that faced Congress in 1965, and that clearly distinguished the covered jurisdictions from the rest of the nation." In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, "Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet." [74] [75] While the preclearance provision itself was not struck down, it will continue to be inoperable unless Congress passes a new coverage formula. [73] [76]


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15th Amendment

During the period of Reconstruction after the conclusion of the Civil War, the Constitution received a series of amendments that banned slavery and sought to extend the guaranteed freedoms and protections under the law to the African American community. The last of these Reconstruction Amendments was the Fifteenth Amendment, which prohibited the government from denying any citizen the right to vote based upon race, skin color, or previous condition of servitude.

The bill that would become the newest amendment was met with resistance at first. The initial proposal included protections based on religious beliefs, education, property, and nativity, but it was rejected on the grounds that it would allow large populations of non-native US citizens to vote and the Republican majority feared this would lead to losing some of their power in Congress.

A compromise was eventually reached that would not allow state or federal governments to ban individuals from voting, but it was carefully worded so as to not extend the protections any further in order to gain as much support from the opposition as possible. The new bill passed in the House of Representatives on February 25, 1869, with a vote of 144 in favor to 44 against. It passed in the Senate on February 26, 1869, with a vote of 39 in favor to 13 against. After passing both houses of Congress, the bill was sent to the states for ratification.

At this point in history, amendments required the support of 28 states as there were only 37 states in the US. As a result of the laws passed during Reconstruction, all 11 of the southern states that had formed the Confederacy already provided suffrage to African Americans thanks to Union Republican oversight. Most of the resistance to ratification originated from northern and western states. With three states voting in favor nearly simultaneously, the proposal acquired the support of its 29th state in February of 1870 and was declared officially enacted on March 30, 1870.

Even though the Fifteenth Amendment prevents any governing body in the US from banning individuals from voting due to race or former status as an indentured servant, it does not prohibit those governing bodies from implementing other methods of prevention, nor does it guarantee the right of a citizen of color to hold political office. Some of the more common tools utilized to deny one’s right to vote were literacy tests and poll taxes.

Many members of minority groups were either under-educated or lacking formal education entirely at the time. Literacy tests were used to exclude those citizens on the grounds that they were not able to demonstrate the ability to read and write, thus side-stepping protections based on race and background. Poll taxes operated with the same objective as many members of the targeted groups were not wealthy. Even though all citizens were now protected by the Constitution regardless of race and background, racism was still abundant in many areas of the country. This led to increased segregation and would serve to exacerbate this situation for nearly 100 years after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. It would not be properly addressed until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This was not met without fierce opposition, however. In addition to the tests and taxes placed by some local governments, many groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan in the south, began intimidating minority voters using violent means to keep them from voting. Initially, the Union soldiers stationed in the south were able to enforce the amendment and Congress managed to pass laws that would allow the prosecution of individuals from those groups. The laws were later dismissed as these groups were not considered to be part of the state and could not be charged with voter discrimination. The situation then worsened in 1876 when the Republicans, as part of a deal over electoral votes, agreed to withdraw the Union soldiers from the south. After the withdrawal, southern governments were able to expand the use of discriminatory hurdles at polling locations and pass a collection of laws known as the Jim Crow laws, which legally enforced racial segregation.

Despite the problems with the reach of the amendment, it was still a monumental success. Overnight, more than 170,000 non-white US citizens had been guaranteed voting protection under the Constitution. The first person to exercise his protected right to vote as an African American was Thomas Mundy Peterson, casting his first vote on March 31, 1870, and paving the way for millions of future voices to be heard. The Fifteenth Amendment was the first step in a journey for universal suffrage and a pivotal moment in ensuring the protection of equal rights for all citizens of the United States.


The Interest Protected.

For the Fourth Amendment to ap-ply to a particular set of facts, there must be a “search” and a “seizure,” occurring typically in a criminal case, with a subsequent attempt to use judicially what was seized.30 Whether there was a search and seizure within the meaning of the Amendment, and whether a complainant’s interests were constitutionally infringed, will often turn upon consideration of his interest and whether it was officially abused. What does the Amendment protect? Under the common law, there was no doubt. In Entick v. Carrington,31 Lord Camden wrote: “The great end for which men entered in society was to secure their property. That right is preserved sacred and incommunicable in all instances where it has not been taken away or abridged by some public law for the good of the whole. . . . By the laws of England, every invasion of private property, be it ever so minute, is a trespass. No man can set foot upon my ground without my license but he is liable to an action though the damage be nothing . . . .” Protection of property interests as the basis of the Fourth Amendment found easy acceptance in the Supreme Court32 and that acceptance controlled the decision in numerous cases.33 For example, in Olmstead v. United States,34 one of the two premises underlying the holding that wiretapping was not covered by the Amendment was that there had been no actual physical invasion of the defendant’s premises where there had been an invasion—a technical trespass— electronic surveillance was deemed subject to Fourth Amendment restrictions.35

The Court later rejected this approach. “The premise that property interests control the right of the government to search and seize has been discredited. . . . We have recognized that the principal object of the Fourth Amendment is the protection of privacy rather than property, and have increasingly discarded fictional and procedural barriers rested on property concepts.”36 Thus, because the Amendment “protects people, not places,” the requirement of actual physical trespass is dispensed with and electronic surveillance was made subject to the Amendment’s requirements.37

The new test, propounded in Katz v. United States, is whether there is an expectation of privacy upon which one may “justifiably” rely.38 “What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.”39 That is, the “capacity to claim the protection of the Amendment depends not upon a property right in the invaded place but upon whether the area was one in which there was reasonable expectation of freedom from governmental intrusion.”40

Katz’s focus on privacy was revitalized in Kyllo v. United States,41 in which the Court invalidated the warrantless use of a thermal imaging device directed at a private home from a public street. The rule devised by the Court to limit police use of new technology that can “shrink the realm of guaranteed privacy” is that “obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical ‘intrusion into a constitutionally protected area’ . . . constitutes a search—at least where (as here) the technology in question is not in general public use.”42 Relying on Katz, the Court rejected as “mechanical” the Government’s attempted distinction between off-the-wall and through-the-wall surveillance. Permitting all off-the-wall observations, the Court observed, “would leave the homeowner at the mercy of advancing technology—including technology that could discern all human activity in the home.”

Although the sanctity of the home has been strongly reaffirmed, protection of privacy in other contexts becomes more problematic. A two-part test that Justice Harlan suggested in Katz often provides the starting point for analysis.43 The first element, the “subjective expectation” of privacy, has largely dwindled as a viable standard, because, as Justice Harlan noted in a subsequent case, “our expectations, and the risks we assume, are in large part reflections of laws that translate into rules the customs and values of the past and present.”44 As for the second element, whether one has a “legitimate” expectation of privacy that society finds “reasonable” to recognize, the Court has said that “[l]egitimation of expectations of privacy by law must have a source outside of the Fourth Amendment, either by reference to concepts of real or personal property law or to understandings that are recognized and permitted by society.”45

Thus, protection of the home is at the apex of Fourth Amendment coverage because of the right associated with ownership to exclude others46 but ownership of other things, i.e., automobiles, does not carry a similar high degree of protection.47 That a person has taken normal precautions to maintain his privacy, that is, precautions customarily taken by those seeking to exclude others, is usually a significant factor in determining legitimacy of expectation.48 Some expectations, the Court has held, are simply not among those that society is prepared to accept.49 In the context of norms for the use of rapidly evolving communications devices, the Court was reluctant to consider “the whole concept of privacy expectations” at all, preferring other decisional grounds: “The judiciary risks error by elaborating too fully on the Fourth Amendment implications of emerging technology before its role in society has become clear.”50

What seems to have emerged is a balancing standard that requires “an assessing of the nature of a particular practice and the likely extent of its impact on the individual’s sense of security balanced against the utility of the conduct as a technique of law enforcement.” Whereas Justice Harlan saw a greater need to restrain police officers through the warrant requirement as the intrusions on individual privacy grow more extensive,51 the Court’s solicitude for law enforcement objectives frequently tilts the balance in the other direction.

Application of this balancing test, because of the Court’s weighing of law enforcement investigative needs,52 and its subjective evaluation of privacy needs, has led to the creation of a two-tier or sliding-tier scale of privacy interests. The privacy test was originally designed to permit a determination that an interest protected by the Fourth Amendment had been invaded.53 If it had been, then ordinarily a warrant was required, subject only to the narrowly defined exceptions, and the scope of the search under those exceptions was “strictly tied to and justified by the circumstances which rendered its initiation permissible.”54 But the Court now uses the test to determine whether the interest invaded is important or persuasive enough so that a warrant is required to justify it55 if the individual has a lesser expectation of privacy, then the invasion may be justified, absent a warrant, by the reasonableness of the intrusion.56 Exceptions to the warrant requirement are no longer evaluated solely by the justifications for the exception, e.g., exigent circumstances, and the scope of the search is no longer tied to and limited by the justification for the exception.57 The result has been a considerable expansion, beyond what existed prior to Katz, of the power of police and other authorities to conduct searches.

In United States v. Jones,58 the Court seemed to revitalize the significance of governmental trespass in determining whether a Fourth Amendment search has occurred. In Jones, the Court considered whether the attachment of a Global-Positioning-System (GPS) device to a car used by a suspected narcotics dealer and the monitoring of such device for twenty-eight days, constituted a search. Although the Court ruled unanimously that this month-long monitoring violated Jones’s rights, it splintered on the reasoning. A majority of the Court relied on the theory of common law trespass to find that the attachment of the device to the car represented a physical intrusion into Jones’s constitutionally protected “effect” or private property.59 While this holding obviated the need to assess the month-long tracking under Katz’s reasonable expectation of privacy test, five Justices, who concurred either with the majority opinion or concurred with the judgment, would have held that long-term GPS tracking can implicate an individual’s expectation of privacy.60 Some have read these concurrences as partly premised on the idea that while government access to a small data set—for example, one trip in a vehicle—might not violate one’s expectation of privacy, aggregating a month’s worth of personal data allows the government to create a “mosaic” about an individual’s personal life that violates that individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.61 As a consequence, these concurring opinions could potentially have significant implications for the scope of the Fourth Amendment in relation to current and future technologies, such as cell phone tracking and wearable technologies that do not require a physical trespass to monitor a person’s activities and that can aggregate a wealth of personal data about users.62


Background: The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments

In 1865, the Union soldiers were victorious, ending the four-year American Civil War. Reconstruction then became the former slave’s best friend, promising to enforce the civil rights of African Americans. However, reconstruction was short-lived, officially eliminated when political compromises were made, and Rutherford B. Hayes given the oval in exchange for the un-enforcement of federal troops in the South. One of the reoccurring themes of the Gilded Age was discrimination and the later emergence of the “New South.” Although slavery was now abolished and the 13th,14th, and 15th Amendments were ratified, a new wave of racial incarceration developed.

The 13th Amendment states "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude . shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." This post-Civil war amendment holds great significance to the Plessy v. Ferguson court case because it abolished slavery in the United States and became the first official assertion of civil rights for slaves in the U.S. Constitution (1).

The passing of the 13 th Amendment did not yield an immediate welcoming for slaves into white American society during the nineteenth century. To challenge the new amendment, former Confederate states established Black Codes to preserve the privileges of slavery in terms of free labor from newly freed Blacks, and to prevent free Black men and women from asserting their newly granted civil rights supported by the Constitution.

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” In addition to abolishing slavery, the 14th Amendment legally combatted Black Codes, deeming all peoples born in the United States citizens, and denied any States from revoking these rights through the equal protection clause, that was intended to weight all United States citizens equally under the judgment of the law (2).

The 14th Amendment is significant to African Americans and the Plessy v. Ferguson case because it was ratified to prevent newly freed slaves from being discriminated against by state and local laws.

Lastly, the third amendment in the post-Civil War civil rights legislation trio is the 15th Amendment. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The 15 th Amendment granted African Americans the right to vote, a huge Reconstruction victory for American Americans as it was the last piece of the legislation trio to integrate newly freed slaves into society as American citizens (3).

Much like the 13 th and 14 th Amendments, the former Confederate Southern states, as well as some in the North, did not abide by these new policies, and African Americans were subjected to local terror and discriminatory state guidelines that revoked voting and citizenship privileges such as property and business ownership and civic participation.

An example of the rejection of the 15 th Amendment and the Reconstruction initiative of the post-Civil War South is the Colfax Massacre of 1873. The Colfax Massacre is worth referencing because it also took place in Louisiana, the setting of the railroad car Homer Plessy was arrested in for violating the Louisiana Separate Car Act that will later be discussed. In summary, the Colfax Massacre was the result of an angry white terrorist group’s reaction to the newly elected governor of Louisiana Republican William Kellogg who was elected in part by a large amount of Black Republican voters who voted during the election. Conscious of the radical white supremacy groups that may retaliate in protest of the election of the Louisiana governor, militant freed Black politicians occupied the Grant Parish government building in Colfax. Prior to the Massacre, the Grant Parish regional government was evenly mixed between black and white townspeople (4).

The day of the massacre, 150 black men were murdered by a white militia group of white former Confederates and white supremacists, radicalizing against the election.

The Colfax Massacre is notably the climax of the terror against African Americans since the ratification of the 13 th ,14 th and 15 th Amendments, eradicating the Black Republican party of the South and ending Reconstruction Era.

Despite the abolishment of slavery, official citizenship and civil rights, and the right to vote that were all allotted to Black slaves under the Constitution after the Civil War, Reconstruction came to an end in 1876, just eleven years after the passing of the 13 th Amendment, with the political exchange of favors between the Democrat and Republican Parties in the presidential election of 1876.

The 13 th , 14 th , and 15 th Amendments are significant to the Plessy v. Ferguson court decision because they personify that despite the legal validity of African American citizenship, African Americans were awarded full US citizenship after the Civil War, and the separate but equal ruling set a precedent that defines modern discrimination for the next half-century.

“The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” National Constitution Center – The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Accessed November 1, 2019. https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment/amendment-xiii.

“The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” National Constitution Center – The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Accessed November 1, 2019. https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment/amendment-xiv.

“The 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.” National Constitution Center – The 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Accessed November 1, 2019. https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendment/amendment-xv.

Foner, Eric. Reconstruction: Americas Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. HarperPerennial, 2014.


US ratifies 15th Amendment: This Day in History

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On this day in history, in 1870, the U.S. Congress ratified the 15th Amendment, which granted African American men the right to vote.

Spearheaded by Republicans in Congress, the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1869, four years after the end of the American Civil War.

President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act which enforced the 15th Amendment. (nps.gov)

It followed the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States, and the 14th Amendment, which granted citizenship to African Americans.

Though the trio of amendments appeared to signify a promise of equal rights to African Americans, it represented the beginning of a new struggle that has lasted for more than a century.

Jim Crow laws, which ensured a system of segregation based on race, were enacted throughout the South and remained in place until the 1960s. Under these laws, African Americans were reduced to second-class citizens.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson urged Congress to pass legislation that would enforce the 15th Amendment. He told Congress: “We cannot have government for all the people until we first make certain it is government of and by all the people.”

President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law on Aug. 6, 1965. The Act outlawed discriminatory voting practices, like literacy tests and grandfather clauses, that had been in place since the Civil War. Congress extended the law in 1970, 1975 and 1982.


Watch the video: Το πραξικόπημα της 15ης Ιουλίου 1974