Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbidding discrimination in voting rights on the basis of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Section 2 gives enforcement power to Congress.
The original U.S. Constitution tied the right of individuals to vote in federal elections to state election laws.
Commemorative print celebrating ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment.
In 1868, after the Northern victory in the Civil War, the Fourteenth Amendment established citizenship
Immediately after the ratification of the amendment, Congress passed the Enforcement Act of 1870
In the absence of a statute, the only remedy for these discriminatory practices was case-by-case litigation. The Supreme Court, in case after case, struck down the discriminatory state practices. Grandfather clauses
The mass disenfranchisement of African Americans could not be reached efficiently or fully by means of individually brought cases. Although some of the discriminatory state practices were halted, every voting registration decision could be made on the basis of race if voting registrars wished to do so. Against this background, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965
The first important cases arising under this law came to the Court in 1966. In South Carolina v. Katzenbach
Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act in 1970 and extended the literacy test ban to the entire country. The extension reached New York State’s English-language literacy test, which had the practical effect of disenfranchising many Puerto Rican voters. The English-language literacy test had been in place long before any substantial Puerto Rican migration to New York City had taken place. The extension was upheld by the Court in Oregon v. Mitchell
The effect of the Court’s Fifteenth Amendment decisions coupled with the broader provisions of the Voting Rights Act has been immense. In 1961 only 1.2 million African
One possible starting point for further study is Robert E. DiClerico’s Voting in America: A Reference Handbook (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2004), a handy general reference work that covers the entire history of voting-rights issues in America. A study that focuses on the role of the Supreme Court in the extension and protection of voting rights is Charles L. Zelden’s Voting Rights on Trial: A Handbook with Cases, Laws, and Documents (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2002). Jack Greenberg’s Race Relations and American Law (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959) offers a good place to start for a comprehensive view of the constitutional rules before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. John Braeman’s Before the Civil Rights Revolution: The Old Court and Individual Rights (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988) discusses the developing jurisprudence of the Court in the area of civil rights. For insight into the inner workings of the Warren Court, Bernard Schwartz’s Inside the Warren Court (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), with Stephen Lesher, is based not only on the documentation but also on personal acquaintance. Compromised Compliance: Implementation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982) by Howard Ball, Dale Krane, and Thomas P. Lauth contains one of the first important discussions of the remedial versus effects morass in which the Court finds itself. Using cases, Daniel Hays Lowenstein’s Election Law (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1995) analyzes how the Supreme Court has treated questions regarding electoral structures and processes. J. Morgan Kousser’s The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South, 1880-1910 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1974) and Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998) analyze the right to vote in the South, covering the Reconstruction era in the first volume and the post-World War II years in the second. Michael Dawson’s Behind the Mule: Race and Class in American Politics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994) examines voting rights in connection with race as does Abigail M. Thernstrom’s Whose Votes Count? Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987).
Gomillion v. Lightfoot
Oregon v. Mitchell, Texas v. Mitchell, and United States v. Arizona
Smith v. Allwright
South Carolina v. Katzenbach
Vote, right to
Voting Rights Act of 1965