Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Live-blogging the Fifteenth Amendment: January 29, 1869 (1)

 - by New Deal democrat

I am trying to catch up with this endeavor. Hopefully I’ll be fully caught up by early next week. This is the third entry which is particularly important in the context of our present-day crisis due to gerrymandering and voter suppression. 

On January 29, 1869, the House of Representatives dedicated time to discussing the Civil Rights bill under the 14th Amendment, and the proposed 15th Amendment.

Rep. William R. Kelley, Republican from Pennsylvania, first discussed the powers of Congress pursuant to the Federal constitutional guarantee of a “republican form of government” to the States:
I hold that all of the power that this amendment will give is already in the Constitution. I admit that it has lain dormant .... [but] I am persuaded that it will yet be quickened and called into action. The aroused people will demand that all of the powers of the Constitution be exercised so that each State shall be guaranteed a republican government, and that the citizens of each State shall enjoy peaceably the privileges and immunities of citizenship in the respective States .... 
How was this power to be exercised? How was the guarantee to be carried into effect? .... I turned to the recorded views of James Madison, the leader of that convention, and who is known to history as its father because of the influence he exercised in its counsels and in molding its conclusions. I found that on the 18th of June, 1788, in the Virginia convention, Mr. Madison, in his response to Mr. Monroe, [said:] ... 
‘Some States might regulate the elections on the principles of equality, and others might regulate them otherwise. This diversity would be obviously unjust. Elections are regulated now unequally in some States, particularly in South Carolina, with respect to Charleston, which has a representation of thirty members. Should the people of any State be deprived of the right of suffrage, it was judged proper that it should be remedied by the General Government.’
Turning to the Congressional authority over the “time, place, and manner” of Congressional elections, he quoted the remarks of Theophilus Parsons during the ratification debates in Massachusetts:
‘But a State Legislature, ... when faction and party sprit ran high, would introduce such regulations as would render the right of the people insecure or of little value. They might make an unequal and partial division of the States into districts for the election of Representatives .... Without these powers in Congress, the people can have no remedy. But the fourth section [of Article I of the Constitution] provides a remedy.’
The power is not, I freely admit, one to be exercised by Congress in the first instance. The regulation of the suffrage is left primarily to the States. If they regulate it according to the principles of justice then their action stands; but if not, Congress is required to exercise its supervisory power.
(Emphasis mine)
Source: Congressional Globe, 40th Congress, 3rd Session, pp. 721-22.
The situation I have bolded in the remarks of Theophilus Parsons from the Massachusetts ratifying convention, quoted by Kelley, almost exactly describe our situation today. Kelley is quite clear that he interprets the Constitution to mean that Congress has the explicit power under its authority to regulated the “time, place, and manner” of Congressional elections to remedy this situation.

Further, the quotation from Madison certainly indicates his belief that Congress has the authority, under the Constitutional guarantee of a “republican form of government” to the States, to remedy unjust abridgments of the right to vote including inequality, even in State legislative elections.