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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

Living constitutionalism is largely dead. So, too, is old-style originalism. Instead, there is increasing convergence in the legal academy around what might be called “new textualism.” The core principle of new textualism is that constitutional interpretation must start with a determination, based on evidence from the text, structure, and enactment history, of what the language in the Constitution actually means. This might not sound revolutionary, but it is. This Report explains how we have arrived at this point, why it is significant, and what work remains to be done. 

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.