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The 15th Amendment – Constitutional Protections Against Discrimination

We The People with Quill

February 3, 2023 marks 153 years to the date since the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, amending our Constitution in order to protect the right to vote for African American men who had recently been freed from slavery.  The Amendment’s text states,

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 the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Fifteenth Amendment was the third and final constitutional amendment to be ratified during America’s Reconstruction Era, a 10 to 15-year timeframe beginning in 1865, following the end of the Civil War, a war fought to end slavery in America.  The Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, known together as the Reconstruction Era Amendments, confirmed America’s commitment to equality and reaffirmed our faith in the constitutionally enshrined divine rights of all to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Congressional action and state ratification during this time in our history were designed to implement sweeping changes in America in an effort to fulfill the promises and declarations President Abraham Lincoln announced in his Emancipation Proclamation.  And, just three years after the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) weighed in as well, explaining in the landmark Slaughter-House Cases, 83 U.S. 36 (1873),

On the most casual examination of the language of these [Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth] Amendments, no one can fail to be impressed with the one pervading purpose found in them all, lying at the foundation of each, and without which none of them would have been even suggested; we mean the freedom of the slave race, the security and firm establishment of that freedom, and the protection of the newly-made freeman and citizen from the oppressions of those who had formerly exercised unlimited dominion over him.

The Fifteenth Amendment, in response to the end of the Civil War with the intent of addressing the right of suffrage, proscribed governmental action that denied or impaired the right to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.  The amendment naturally extended the principles and tenants of the Fourteenth Amendment, including protection of civil rights, rights of due process, and rights of equal protection under the law for “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” less than three years earlier. The declaration under the Fourteenth Amendment that all men, no matter race or color, who are born in America or naturalized, are citizens entitled to equal protection of the law provided a clear mechanism to safeguard the right of suffrage and prevent discrimination at voting polls.

Notably, the Fifteenth Amendment protects the right to vote against infringement by both federal and state governments, unlike the guarantees enumerated in the first eight amendments of the Bill of Rights, which protects against violations solely by the federal government.

Historians attribute this additional protection to proactive measures set forth to prevent potentially rogue states from acting in contravene to the Emancipation Proclamation. Furthermore, and as noted by the SCOTUS in a 1915 opinion, although the Fifteenth Amendment does not actually replace powers conferred to the states to regulate suffrage, it does constrain those state powers insomuch as no state law or state constitution will be held valid upon offending the US Constitution, as amended.  Specifically, SCOTUS clarified,  

The Fifteenth Amendment does not, in a general sense, take from the States the power over suffrage possessed by the States from the beginning, but it does restrict the power of the United States or the States to abridge or deny the right of a citizen of the United States to vote on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. While the Fifteenth Amendment gives no right of suffrage, as its command is self-executing, rights of suffrage may be enjoyed by reason of the striking out of discriminations against the exercise of the right.

We, at America’s Future, embrace freedom, liberty, and equal protection under the law for all American citizens.  Tomorrow, on the 153rd anniversary of the ratification of our Fifteenth Amendment, join us in prayer – that our country can one day soon come together just as soldiers faithfully believed we could, 150 years ago, when they sacrificed their lives and limbs during our Civil War.  We pray, too, that corrupt politicians and the soulless propaganda press will stand down to make way for truth and unity.

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