Black disenfranchisement unfolds through a typical pattern in many states at the turn of the century. Black participation in elections is reduced through force and fraud. Legislatures controlled by Democrats enact complex voter registration requirements that reduce the number of black votes. Amendments to state constitutions impose poll taxes and literacy tests.

In Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475 (1903), the so-called "black disenfranchisement" case, the Supreme Court effectively acquiesces in these practices and upholds Alabama's voter registration scheme. Justice Holmes rejects the claim that the state is trying to prevent blacks from registering to vote. More importantly, even if that was the goal, Holmes argues, there is nothing that the Supreme Court can do to prevent it: "Apart from damages to the individual, relief from a great political wrong, if done, as alleged, by the people of a state and the state itself, must be given by them or by the legislative and political department of the government of the United States."