Reflections on the intersection of economics, history, politics, psychology and science

“Originalism” and Voting Rights

After recording our 19th podcast (The Toad to the White House) on voting rights a friend with far more knowledge of the Constitution than me taught me about the 15th Amendment. This provision grew out of the US Civil War and the effort immediately after that conflict to both forbid slavery and enshrine the ability of citizens to vote.

The authors of the 15th Amendment were addressing the same issue we identified in our podcast: freedom is at risk when people are denied a seat at the table by being kept from voting, which prior to ratification of the 15th Amendment had mostly been left in the hands of the states, with terrible results.

Sadly, it is far less well-known than its “sister amendment”, the “equal protection” one, the 14th Amendment. Which is why, despite being more familiar with the law and our Constitution than the average amphibian, we ended up suggesting a solution in our podcast which has been part of our legal framework for over a century.

Why this level of ignorance of such an important Constitutional principle exists is almost certainly due, in part, to how originalism — with its supposed emphasis on resolving Constitutional issues based on original intent — can easily be corrupted into a tool to support almost any kind of conclusion you want.

To read more about this, check out this article.

And reflect on the actual words of the 15th Amendment yourself.