The Forgotten Constitutional Weapon Against Voter Restrictions

A former attorney for the Department of Justice has brought a long-shot lawsuit to federal court in Washington, D.C., arguing that the US Census Bureau is legally obligated to carry out a little-known and never-enforced passage of the Fourteenth Amendment. The so-called “penalty clause,” found in section 2 of the constitutional amendment, holds that if a state government illegally infringes on a citizen’s ability to vote, that state will lose Congressional representation in direct proportion to the percentage of its voters it suppressed. Though attempts were made to enforce this penalty in the 1870’s and in the 1970’s, none succeeded. This is the first time it has been argued that responsibility for enforcement falls to the Census Bureau. Oral arguments for the case are scheduled to begin this December.

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