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Human and Civil Rights and the Constitution

The Reconstruction Amendments were intended to give our nation what Abraham Lincoln promised at Gettysburg: a New Birth of Freedom. Unfortunately, much of their power and meaning was eviscerated in a series of egregious Supreme Court rulings in the 1870s and 1880s. These rulings are just as wrong as long-overruled opinions such as Plessy v. Ferguson, but remain on the books. Read properly, the Reconstruction Amendments provide a solid foundation for courts and the federal government to protect human and civil rights. CAC works to raise public consciousness about the importance of the Reconstruction Amendments and convince politicians and judges about the mandate these Amendments create for the advancement of civil and human rights.

Think Tank

For the last 47 years, year in and year out, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) has stood as our nation’s most effective civil rights law to realize the guarantees of the Fifteenth Amendment and prevent and deter state-sponsored racial discrimination in voting. Much of the Act’s success is due to the preclearance requirement contained in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires state and local jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting to get “preclearance” from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or a three-judge federal court in Washington, D.C., before changing their voting laws and regulations. 

This Term, in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court will take up the constitutionality of the preclearance requirement for the sixth time since the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965. The Court should reject Shelby County’s argument. In this Issue Brief, we show that the constitutionality of the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act should not be in serious doubt.

Yesterday, the American Constitution Society (ACS) released an Issue Brief by CAC's Chief Counsel, Elizabeth Wydra, entitled "Birthright Citizenship: A Constitutional Guarantee." Section 1 of the 14th Amendment guarantees that "[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." As the Issue Brief demonstrates, the words and history of this constitutional text establish that it provides automatic birthright citizenship regardless of race, color, or ancestry.

With the Supreme Court poised to consider the review of marriage equality rulings by lower courts around the country, opponents of marriage equality have radically changed the thrust of their defense of state laws that deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Defenders of discriminatory marriage laws are now pressing a federalism/democracy argument, claiming that the people of a state have the authority to decide whether to place a badge of inferiority on same-sex couples and deny them the right to marry. As documented in this Issue Brief, this argument, which flies in the face of the Constitution’s text and history, is no more viable than prior arguments.

In September 2009, CAC released the first installment of its new Issue Briefs Series. The issue brief, titled CAC Supreme Court Preview: Three Big Cases, One Monumental Test for the Roberts Court, provided a preview of the Supreme Court’s upcoming docket, highlighting three important cases facing the Roberts Court: Citizens United v. FECFree Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, and McDonald v. City of Chicago.