Louisiana Law Review


Earl Maltz


United States Constitution 15th Amendment, Suffrage, United States Voting Rights Act of 1965


The year 2020 marked the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, the last of the three Reconstruction Amendments that fundamentally transformed both the structure of the Constitution and the nature of American federalism. The Fifteenth Amendment differed

from its predecessors in a number of important ways. First, it was the only one of the Reconstruction Amendments and remains the only part of the entire Constitution to focus explicitly on race. In addition, the amendment became the first provision of the Constitution to limit the power of the state governments to establish the qualifications for voters in elections for state office, providing that “[t]he right of citizens . . . to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”1 and vesting Congress with the authority to enforce this command by adopting “appropriate legislation.”2 Thus, among other things, the Fifteenth Amendment provided the most plausible source of congressional authority for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—a statute which was and continues to be, by any standard, one of the most important civil rights measures that Congress ever adopted. Nonetheless, unlike the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, legal scholars have shown relatively little interest in exploring the background of the Fifteenth Amendment. This Article describes both the sequence of events that led to the passage and ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment and the forces that shaped the amendment itself.

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