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The expansion of civil rights and liberties has not been a smooth, perfectly linear process. Can you describe an example when a civil rights protection from discrimination or a civil liberty to exercise a personal freedom was weakened, transformed, or curtailed by a supreme court ruling or a law created by elected representatives? What is the consequence of this retraction of freedoms or protections?

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A prime example of the regression of civil rights occurred after the Reconstruction period when African Americans lost many of their newly gained rights, including the right to vote. Let's look at this in more detail.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution, passed in 1870, asserts that voting rights cannot be "denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." In other words, former African American slaves (males only, though) could vote. Indeed, many did embrace this right to vote, and their votes made a difference in the Reconstruction era.

Yet when the Reconstruction governments fell apart later in the 1870s, voting rights took a large step backwards. States introduced many barriers to African American voting, including literacy tests, poll taxes, fraud, and intimidation. Before long, most African Americans had lost this civil liberty.

Regaining the full right to vote took almost a century as African Americans worked hard and protested, facing plenty of opposition and violence along the way. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed, prohibiting literacy tests and other barriers. That year, only about twenty-three percent of eligible African Americans voted, but in 1969, sixty-one percent of African Americans were making use of that right.

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