"On Account of Race reveals the ways in which the U.S. Supreme Court has, time and again, upheld white supremacy at the expense of voters of color." K. W. Colyard, Bustle
"Lucid legal history . . . 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." Publishers Weekly
"An expert on constitutional law skewers the U.S. Supreme Court for its failure to strike down practices that disenfranchise black citizens . . . A persuasive case that history matters and that the past is prologue." Kirkus Reviews
“A thought-provoking book about some of the tragic twists and turns of race in the Supreme Court post–Civil War. This is a significant conversation.” ––Jay Winik, bestselling author of April 1865 and 1944
"In a book both reasonable and readable, Lawrence Goldstone effectively challenges the convenient mythology that racial segregation was a policy reflecting merely the isolated prejudices of the southern American states in the post–Civil War era. His main focus is the U.S. Supreme Court and the peculiar, absurdly twisted logic across a series of critical cases by which the justices undermined the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, systematically legitimating Jim Crow. The lesson is clear: that voting and other basic rights, unless broadly defended, can rest on fragile foundations indeed." ––Ronald King, professor of political science at San Diego State University and coauthor of Removal of the Property Qualification for Voting in the United States
"No right is more important than the vote. Yet in this engaging and highly readable book, Lawrence Goldstone shows how the Supreme Court, the supposed guardian of our fundamental rights, has repeatedly failed to protect this right for the most vulnerable Americans. With an eye for detail and irony, Goldstone uncovers the dramatic stories behind the cases in which the Court left racial minorities to fend for themselves in a hostile democracy." ––Adam Winkler, professor at UCLA School of Law and National Book Award finalist for We the Corporations
"Skillfully and with measured patience, deep insight, and extraordinary attention to primary source evidence charts the course of the United States Supreme Court’s abandonment of African American Fifteenth Amendment voting rights and Fourteenth Amendment equality under the law civil rights. In a compelling manner, Goldstone lays bare the glaring and in many instances jarring evidence of the brutal physical suppression of African Americans in the post–Civil War South by white “Redeemers,” and the High Court’s serendipitous avoidance of the evidence of sustained discrimination against especially African Americans seeking to use their civil and voting rights. Goldstone’s meticulous research brings forward the numerous cases brought before the Court by African American litigants seeking redress, even as he demonstrates persuasively that African Americans had no ally in the High Court as they and the relatively small numbers of whites who supported them sought to realize the equality promised them by Reconstruction Era amendments to the nation’s Constitution." Marsha J. Tyson Darling, PhD, director of African, Black and Caribbean studies at Adelphi University and editor of Race, Voting, Redistricting and the Constitution
"A careful and brilliant analysis of the effort of the Southern states to deprive the African American population of the right to vote after Reconstruction ended in 1877. There was no disguise of their purpose and no restriction on the method they used. From the grandfather clause or poll taxes or literacy tests, whatever could be used to block African Americans from voting was openly and emphatically applied. The white population was simply determined to keep the ballot box for themselves. Goldstone shows how the courts refused to interfere in any way with this program. Even such noteworthy judges as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes approved the effort. The book carefully examines the campaign, which lasted almost one hundred years until the Voting Rights Act of 1965." ––Leon Friedman, Joseph Kushner Distinguished Professor of Civil Liberties Law at Hofstra University
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
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.