• Last updated on November 11, 2022

The Supreme Court recognized the right of Congress to enforce its own interpretation of Fourteenth Amendment rights.

A New York statute required passage of an English literacy test in order to register to vote. In Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections[case]Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections[Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections] (1959), the Court had held that such literacy requirements did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. New York’s attorney general argued that Congress could not invoke the enforcement provision of the Fourteenth Amendment to prohibit implementation of a state law when that law had not been judged unconstitutional by the judicial branch.Vote, right to;Katzenbach v. Morgan[Katzenbach v. Morgan]

However, by a 7-2 vote, the Court upheld a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965Voting Rights Act of 1965, providing that no person who had completed the sixth grade in an accredited Puerto Rican school could be denied the right to vote because of an inability to read or write English. Speaking for the majority, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.,Brennan, William J., Jr.;Katzenbach v. Morgan[Katzenbach v. Morgan] argued that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment intended section 5 to give Congress broad powers to enforce the rights enumerated in the amendment. Brennan wrote, moreover, that Congress had the prerogative of interpreting the U.S. Constitution in ways that expanded on the rights that were recognized by the courts. Justice John M. Harlan II’s dissent warned that if Congress could expand on the Court’s interpretations of constitutional rights, it could logically also restrict some guarantees. Most commentators have concluded that the majority of the justices rejected Brennan’s expansive view of congressional prerogatives in Oregon v. Mitchell[case]Oregon v. Mitchell[Oregon v. Mitchell] (1970).

Congressional power to enforce amendments

Equal protection clause

Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections

Oregon v. Mitchell, Texas v. Mitchell, and United States v. Arizona

Separation of powers

South Carolina v. Katzenbach

Vote, right to

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