The first section of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870 after the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, reads simply: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
The second, and final section of the 15th Amendment, is even shorter: "The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
Congress is charged with determining the "appropriate legislation" to assure that voters are not discriminated against on the basis of race. And, though it took almost another 100 years after the ratification of the 15th Amendment to do so, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965 was passed to help ensure exactly that.
In 2006, in continuing its duty to uphold the Constitution, after 21 Congressional hearings, including testimony that amounted to some 15,000 pages of evidence, the VRA was re-authorized for another 25 years by an astounding 98 to 0 margin in the U.S. Senate and a nearly-as-impressive 390 to 33 in the U.S. House.
"There was a lot of invidious discrimination shown," says Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who chaired the U.S. House Judiciary Committee at the time. He characterized the hearings, which closely examined the extent to which racial discrimination still affects minority voters, as "one of the most extensive considerations of any piece of legislation that the United States Congress has dealt with in the twenty-seven and a half years that I have [served]."
That year's VRA re-authorization was signed into law by Republican George W. Bush. The law's three other federal re-authorizations (in 1970, 1975 and 1982) were also signed into law by Republican Presidents.
One of the most successful, and universally respected pieces of bi-partisan legislation in our nation's history, however, is now coming under serious attack from Republicans and a group of billionaire funders in the years following its last re-authorization. Since that year, an unprecedented number of challenges against the VRA --- specifically its Section 5, which applies to some 16 different jurisdictions with a long history of racial discrimination --- have been filed in the court system, at the same time that a tidal wave of voter suppression laws have been passed by GOP legislatures across the country, most notably, in many of the jurisdictions covered by Section 5.
A challenge to that section of the VRA, which served to block a number of new restrictions on voting and voter registration during the run-up to the 2012 election, will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, and the outlook for the crucial protections that Section 5 has offered for decades are now potentially in very grave danger of being struck down entirely...