Bertrall Ross is Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Virginia Law School. In his Academy project, he examines competing conceptions of self-government that...
Berthold Leibinger Lecture
The Fifteenth Amendment and the Constitutionalization of Democratic Self-Governance in the United States
The defeat of the South, the constitutional abolition of slavery, and the constitutional protection of African Americans’ civil rights left a critical issue that remained unresolved in 1869: Did the newly amended US Constitution protect African Americans’ rights to democratic self-governance? Bertrall Ross traces competing conceptions of self-government that evolved over two centuries of English and American political thought, culminating in the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1869. He does so to pose an open question: Does the Fifteenth Amendment protect only individuals’ narrow right to cast a ballot without discrimination, or does it reach further to bar impediments to truly racially inclusive governing bodies? The answers to this question have far-reaching implications for subsequent amendments that protected the right to vote for women, the poor, and the young.
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