Modern doctrine has not been faithful to the text, history, and structure of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. These amendments were designed to give Congress broad powers to protect civil rights and civil liberties; together they form Congress's Reconstruction Power.
Congress gave itself broad powers because it believed it could not trust the Supreme Court to protect the rights of the freedmen. The Supreme Court soon realized Congress's fears, limiting not only the scope of the Reconstruction Amendments but also Congress's powers to enforce them in decisions like United States v. Cruikshank and the Civil Rights Cases. Due to these early cases, Congress was often forced to use its Commerce Power to protect civil rights. Modern decisions beginning with City of Boerne v. Flores and United States v. Morrison have compounded these errors.
Date of Authorship for this Version
The Reconstruction Power, 85 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1801 (2010)