UNITED STATES v. REESE
In January 1873, two election inspectors, Hiram Reese and Matthew Foushee, refused to allow William Garner, an African-American, to vote in a municipal election in Lexington, Kentucky. Reese and Foushee claimed Garner had failed to pay a tax of $1.50, but Garner had attempted to pay the tax and was refused by a tax collector. The Enforcement Act of 1870, which defined penalties associated with violations of voting rights under the Fifteenth Amendment, stipulated that if an official refused to permit a citizen to perform an action required for voting, the citizen could present an affidavit that would qualify him. Reese and Foushee refused to accept Garner's affidavit. Reese and Foushee were charged with violating the Enforcement Act. On appeal, the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Kentucky found the relevant sections of the Enforcement Act too broad, exceeding the bounds of the Fifteenth Amendment, and dismissed the indictments.
Was the Enforcement Act of 1870 a valid exercise of Congress's power to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment?
No. In an 8-1 decision authored by Chief Justice Morrison Waite, the Court concluded that the relevant sections of the Enforcement Act lacked the necessary, limiting language to qualify as enforcement of the Fifteenth Amendment. The Chief Justice first stated that the Fifteenth Amendment "does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one," but "prevents the States, or the United States, however, from giving preference…to one citizen of the United States over another on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." In examining the language of the Enforcement Act, the Court noted that, while the first two sections of the act explicitly referred to race in criminalizing interference with the right to vote, the relevant third and fourth sections refer only to the "aforesaid" offense. According to the Court, this language does not sufficiently tailor the law to qualify as "appropriate legislation" under the Enforcement Clause of the Fifteenth Amendment.