March 13, 2013
Daily Read: Tolson on VRA's Section 5 and - - - Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment
The controversies surrounding the Court's impending decision in Shelby County v. Holder regarding the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act's "preclearance" provision (section 5) have been exacerbated by Justice Scalia's remarks about "racial entitlement." Seemingly, at issue for the Justices - - - originalist and otherwise - - - is the meaning of the enforcement clauses of the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Amendments: "The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."
In a provocative new article, A Structural Theory of Elections, available in draft on ssrn, ConLawProf Franita Tolson (pictured) seeks to redirect our attention to section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment:
Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.
Tolson's attention is not to the language that first introduced gender into the Constitution ("male inhabitants") or to the change in counting those male inhabitants ("excluding Indians") or to the subsequent change in voting age, but to the broad ability of Congress to change the apportionment for voting rights violations. She argues that this previously under-emphasized language makes the Court's "congruence and proportionality" standard for evaluating Congressional power inapplicable in the voting and election contexts.
Tolson's article is a closely reasoned and excellently researched argument for the broad enforcement powers of Congress intended by the Framers of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. She ultimately contends "that requiring preclearance of all electoral changes instituted by select jurisdictions under section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is actually a lesser penalty than reduced representation under section 2, and is thus consistent with Congress’s broad authority to regulate voting and elections under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments."
Tolson's article is certainly worth a read for anyone considering the issues at the heart of Shelby County v. Holder.
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