The Supreme Court's Retreat from Reconstruction: A Distortion of Constitutional Jurisprudence

Synopsis

As the nation turned its back on Reconstruction, the Supreme Court in turn narrowed Thirteenth-, Fourteenth-, and Fifteenth-Amendment protections of former slaves, thus straying from the understanding of the amendments' framers. Tracking a long line of cases that employed narrow constructions of these amendments and accompanying statutes, this study compares the Court's propositions to the framers' own interpretations. The resulting portrait makes it clear that the Court contributed in a significant way to the nation's retreat from Reconstruction. Before analyzing the relevant cases, Scaturro provides a historical synopsis of the collapse of Reconstruction. The final section demonstrates how the twentieth-century Court handed down decisions that accommodated the demands of the Civil Rights Movement, but did so with constitutional interpretations that preserved several misunderstandings about the Reconstruction Amendments, especially the Fourteenth.