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Voting Rights and the United States Supreme Court - Essay Example

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Voting Rights and the United States Supreme Court Voter rights are not explicitly stated in the U.S. Constitution, only by reference to the fact that the franchise cannot be denied based solely on certain enumerated qualifications. The "right to vote," also known as suffrage, is perhaps better understood as only barring certain forms of discrimination, leaving to the States the establishment of voter qualifications…
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Voting Rights and the United States Supreme Court
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Download file to see previous pages When the United States Constitution was ratified in 1788, suffrage was not discussed in the text, except by reference to the age of qualification to hold certain office, and by mention of the census, for which Native Americans were excluded and African Americans were to be counted as three-fifths of a white man for the purpose of this head count. The management of elections was a right given over exclusively to the States (The Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 4). It was left to the Bill of Rights, Article 9, Section 2, to specify that voting was only for white males over twenty-one years of age. The Constitution’s lack of specifics left the States to establish their own brand of voting rights, or non-rights in most cases. Religion was a common restriction on suffrage, including holding Office of any kind. Delaware’s Constitution denied Jews, Quakers and Catholics the right to vote or hold office by providing an oath to be taken before voting. Said oath required one to profess a Christian belief in specific way (Delaware Constitution). There were no cases addressing this issue brought before Chief Justice John Jay during the first term at the Supreme Court and the religious prohibitions stayed in place until 1810 with no help from the Court (U.S. Voting Rights). In fact, it wasn’t until 1810 that the Supreme Court found any State law unconstitutional (Fletcher). The U.S. Constitution, Article 3, states, “(t)he judicial power of the United States shall be vested in one Supreme Court and in such inferior courts that the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” Couple this with the fact that the Court consists of nine judges, not elected but appointed by the President of the United States for a lifetime term, and there is created a body that may pick and choose which cases to hear and through which they impact the lives of everyone living under its jurisdiction. The Court is loathe to decide a case on constitutional grounds when there are other issues that will decide the case, a well established principle according to the Court in Escambia. Thus there may have been many voter rights cases we have never heard about simply because the Supreme Court would not rule on a State’s right to set out its own voting guidelines and disenfranchise certain types of citizens. There is a dearth of cases dealing with voting rights issues for the first fifty years of the court’s existence. It wasn’t until Williams v. Mississipi, decided in 1898, that the Supreme Court specifically address a constitutional challenge to a State’s voting restrictions and the court found no discrimination in a poll tax nor a literacy test. It took an Act of Congress to fill in some of the gaps. Legislative response was to pass the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution and provide that the right to vote could not be denied a citizen based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude.” It was proposed in 1868 and ratified in 1870 as a direct response to Reconstruction Era politics that pitted some (mainly Southern) States against the Federal Government. Congress spoke and the right to vote in elections was open to all adult males aged twenty-one and over. However, the States were finding ways around the literal interpretation of the Fifteenth Ame ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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