Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



This chapter examines efforts to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment in the period from United States v. Reese through Shelby County v. Holder. Reese and Shelby County expose the most rigorous stance the Court has employed to review congressional efforts to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment, while the years in-between show Congress and the Court working more in tandem, at times displaying remarkable indifference to blatant violations of the Fifteenth Amendment, and elsewhere working cooperatively to help vindicate the Amendment’s promise. Defying simple explanation, this vacillation between cooperation and resistance captures the complex and deeply consequential way concerns about federal power, state autonomy, institutional overreaching, and race-conscious decision-making of various sorts have coalesced at particular moments. The result is a narrative that shows both the progress that is possible when the Fifteenth Amendment is vigorously enforced and the damage that is done when it is not.


Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.