THE 14TH AMENDMENT THEN
A REVOLUTIONARY LAW Passed by congress on June 13, 1866, the 14th Amendment came about in the Reconstruction era of the United States after the end of the Civil War. Because of the defeat of the Confederacy, many new federal laws were put into place: We the People Slavery became a crime Citizenship was given to African-Americans All men were given the right to vote
Everyone was guaranteed the rights granted in the Constitution
FOUR MAIN PRINCIPLES WERE ASSERTED IN THIS AMENDMENT:
State and federal citizenship for all people - regardless of race - both born or naturalized in the United States was reaffirmed.
No state would be allowed to limit citizens’ “privileges and immunities.”
No person could be deprived of life, liberty, or property without “due process of law.”
No person could be denied “equal protection of the laws.”
THE MODERN DEBATE Because so many laws fundamental to our day-to-day lives changed after it was passed – often taking power from the states – the debate over certain principles in the 14th Amendment still rages on today. Here are a few of the main issues:
DEBATE: A person cannot be put in jail just because they are suspected of committing a crime – he or she has a right to a fair trial in front of a jury. This may seem simple, but as a fairly vague concept, the debate over how to interpret this law continues today. A law may be passed legally, but with due process, it may be found to be unconstitutional. Recently, this has become especially important over civil rights legislation and other “new” rights that society has deemed important, like the right to privacy and the right to marry. So, with due process, we have to ask: What is liberty? How do we define it? When can it be taken away? DEBATE: From the beginning this was a contested concept, and its interpreted meaning has changed over time. One of the most famous instances of this debate was with Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court case that ended school segregation. Up to that point, segregation was deemed legal, as long as everything was “separate but equal.” Of course, in practice, things were far from equal. As we can see, trying to interpret this clause brings about some fundamental questions: How far, or in relationship to what rights, did the writers intend the idea of equality to apply? In other words, equal as to what? What does it mean to treat people equally?
EQUAL PROTECTION CLAUSE
In essence, it says that once a law is passed, the state cannot enforce it at random against any person within the state’s jurisdiction without violating the Equal Protection Clause.
DUE PROCESS CLAUSE This clause ensures that citizens have a right to fair government procedures in the states and not just the federal government. Now, the states cannot take away “life, liberty, or property” without the proper legal procedures.
Think it Through
1. What do you feel are the most important laws that govern U.S. society?
2. What role does interpreting a law play into our everyday lives?
3. Are there any laws that should never be changed, or should we expect that, with changes in society and the passage of time, all laws must, at some point, be reexamined?
AMER I CA’ S LEGACY PRESENTED BY STUDENT GOVERNMENTAL AFFA I RS PROGRAM | 43 STUDENT GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS PROGRAM | SGAP.ORG | www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2001/bush.100/; www.college.cengage.com/polisci/resources/first_100_days/articles/critical.html; www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtid=2&psid=3439; www.news.harvard.edu/ gazette/story/2009/04/obamas-first-100-days/; www.timetoast.com/timelines/18532
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