In its recent decision striking down North Carolina’s “monster voting law”for “target[ing] African Americans with almost surgical precision” and discriminating in both intent and outcome, a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals emphasized the historical discrimination that Blacks have encountered when seeking access to the ballot and made clear that the district court that previously heard the case “erred in ignoring or dismissing this historical background evidence.” Al McSurely, a longtime civil rights attorney who helped file the lawsuit in 2013, noted that lawyers for the NAACP argued not only that it was unconstitutional to deprive anyone of their right to vote but that it was morally wrong to target a group of people who had been denied their basic rights historically. “Anytime you can argue both morally and constitutionally, you have a very strong argument,” McSurely told Facing South.
For African Americans, the struggle to be recognized as human and to assert their rights as such has been a long-fought battle. When the Reconstruction Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were adopted between 1865 and 1870, freeing enslaved Blacks and making them citizens, Blacks were officially humanized in a way that they had not been for hundreds of years in America.
Indeed, while other amendments would effectively grant groups the right to vote — women by the 19th Amendment, and 18- to 20-year-olds by the 26th — no other amendment enfranchised citizens quite like the 14th Amendment granting citizenship rights to former slaves, or the 15th Amendment giving Black men the right to vote. That’s because no other amendment covered a people who had previously been deemed subhuman and enslaved.
On the other hand, no other voting amendment would prove to be as malleable as the 15th Amendment. Despite being constitutionally granted the right to vote, Black men would be forcefully stripped of that right in the years following Reconstruction, and Black people as a whole would be deprived of basic human rights.