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On Account of Race
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On Account of Race
The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights
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Winner of the Lillian Smith Book AwardAn award–winning constitutional law historian examines case–based evidence of the court's longstanding racial bias (often under the guise of...
Winner of the Lillian Smith Book AwardAn award–winning constitutional law historian examines case–based evidence of the court's longstanding racial bias (often under the guise of...
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  • Winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award
    An award–winning constitutional law historian examines case–based evidence of the court's longstanding racial bias (often under the guise of "states rights") to reveal how that prejudice has allowed the court to solidify its position as arguably the most powerful branch of the federal government.
    One promise of democracy is the right of every citizen to vote. And yet, from our founding, strong political forces were determined to limit that right. The Supreme Court, Alexander Hamilton wrote, would protect the weak against this very sort of tyranny. Still, as On Account of Race forcefully demonstrates, through the better part of American history the Court has instead been a protector of white rule. And complex threats against the right to vote persist even today.
    Beginning in 1876, the Supreme Court systematically dismantled both the equal protection guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and what seemed to be the right to vote in the Fifteenth. And so a half million African Americans across the South who had risked their lives and property to be allowed to cast ballots were stricken from voting rolls by white supremacists. This vacuum allowed for the rise of Jim Crow. None of this was done in the shadows—those determined to wrest the vote from black Americans could not have been more boastful in either intent or execution.
    On Account of Race tells the story of an American tragedy, the only occasion in United States history in which a group of citizens who had been granted the right to vote then had it stripped away. It is a warning that the right to vote is fragile and must be carefully guarded and actively preserved lest American democracy perish.

About the Author-

  • Lawrence Goldstone is the author of five books and numerous articles on constitutional law. His reviews and opinion pieces have appeared in, among other publications, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, The New Republic, and Tablet. His wife is the noted medieval and renaissance historian, Nancy Goldstone. Find out more at lawrencegoldstone.com.

Reviews-

  • Kirkus

    February 15, 2020
    An expert on constitutional law skewers the U.S. Supreme Court for its failure to strike down practices that disenfranchise black citizens. As controversies arise in 2020 about Republican Party operatives hoping to win elections by removing potentially hostile voters from election rolls, Goldstone looks back primarily at 19th-century court rulings to demonstrate that the justices--all of them white males--never intended to uphold the true meaning of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. The author's phrasing is necessarily uncompromising throughout. "In the decades after the Civil War...the Supreme Court," he writes, "always claiming strict adherence to the law, regularly flexed [its] judicial muscles and chose, in decision after decision, to allow white supremacists to re-create a social order at odds with legislation that Congress had passed, the president had signed, and the states had ratified." Those rulings rendered Constitutional amendments "hollow and meaningless." The bigotry and cowardice of the justices allowed Southern states and some Northern states to deny voting rights to blacks with impunity. The shameful behavior extended to justices who have been lionized by historians as beacons of intellectual prowess and fairness. The most significant example is Oliver Wendell Holmes. Goldstone cites Giles v. Harris (1903) as a prime example of how Holmes "distort[ed]...constitutional principles" to deny qualified black citizens the right to vote. In the brief but insightful epilogue, the author wonders whether the morally corrupt justices conceive of the Constitution as a mere assemblage of words or as a grand idea meant to guarantee "fundamental justice" for all U.S. citizens, regardless of race. Without referring directly to the Supreme Court circa 2020, Goldstone posits that democracy can survive only if "all Americans insist that their fellow citizens, no matter what their race, gender, religion, or political belief, be allowed to participate in choosing the nation's leaders." Indeed, "it is a simple rule, one ordinary citizens, elected officials, and especially Supreme Court justices should not forget." A persuasive case that history matters and that the past is prologue.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    March 2, 2020
    The 1965 Voting Rights Act guaranteeing African-Americans “equal access to the ballot” was necessitated by post–Civil War U.S. Supreme Court decisions that allowed “white supremacist” state governments in the South to deny blacks their constitutional rights, according to this lucid legal history. Novelist and historian Goldstone (Stolen Justice) critiques the “sham neutrality” of Supreme Court justices in the 1873 Slaughter-House Cases decision undermining the “privileges and immunities” clause of the 14th Amendment; United States v. Reese (1874), which weakened federal protections for black voting rights; and a series of turn-of-the-century cases upholding state laws that required voters to pass literacy tests and pay poll taxes. Due to these and other rulings, African-Americans were unable to prevent state legislatures from passing Jim Crow laws throughout the South. Though the Voting Rights Act “has been widely considered the single most effective piece of civil rights legislation,” Goldstone writes, the court ruled one of its key provisions unconstitutional in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder (2013). He sketches the contours and ramifications of each case skillfully, boldly critiquing the legal reasoning behind the majority opinions. This well-sourced and accessible account makes a convincing case that America’s highest court played a key role in stalling black progress for a century.

  • Library Journal

    March 1, 2020

    Despite the passage of the 15th Amendment in 1869, which granted African Americans the right to vote, within a decade that guarantee was undermined by former Confederates and the U.S. Supreme Court. Constitutional law historian Goldstone (Inherently Unequal) cogently explores this example of "stolen justice," detailing how the Supreme Court became determined to restrict voting to white men rather than extend it to racial minorities. It took nearly a century to undo this chapter in history; ultimately, the decision was reversed with the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Though historians and political scientists have covered Reconstruction thoroughly, Goldstone still manages to add new insights about both the court cases and the justices responsible for injustice. He praises Booker T. Washington's covert attempts to counteract this decision while condemning Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.'s efforts to overturn judicial decisions that didn't coincide with his beliefs in social Darwinism. VERDICT Goldstone is a first-rate writer, and this book's readability makes it ideal for classroom use, though all readers will learn from the cases covered here.--William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from April 1, 2020
    On the cusp of a pivotal U.S. presidential election, in which the African American vote will play a critical role, a close look at the checkered history of voting rights is welcome indeed. Constitutional-law historian Goldstone traces the Supreme Court's shameful collusion with white racists to suppress black suffrage right from the start of Reconstruction. Although the Constitution originally gave states wide latitude in managing elections, resulting in laws that restricted suffrage by wealth, race, and gender, the Fourteenth Amendment, passed in 1868, was intended to affirm both universal citizenship and universal suffrage. Goldstone points out that enfranchising African Americans was a self-preservation strategy for Congressional Republicans, who feared that readmitting the Confederate states without assuring black suffrage would result in state governments dominated by pro-slavery Democratics. Yet the Democrats had an ally in the U.S. Supreme Court, which relentlessly overturned civil-rights legislation based on dubious claims about the function and reach of the Fourteenth Amendment. Goldstone reserves particular ire for Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose reputation as an unwavering defender of democratic ideals is undercut by his virulent racism, which prompted him to uphold Alabama's openly discriminatory voting laws. A sobering but essential and timely history.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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On Account of Race
On Account of Race
The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights
Lawrence Goldstone
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The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African American Voting Rights
Lawrence Goldstone
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