Happy Anniversary (or Birthday?) to the Fourteenth Amendment

Posted on 07-27-2016 by
Tags: 14th Amendment , Due Process , Constitution , Equal Protection

Fourteen is a significant number.  In sports, Ernie Banks, Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson, and Pete Rose all wore 14.  In music, Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14 is one of his most famous.  In love, the 14th of February is always Valentine’s Day.  In poetry, a sonnet is a 14 line poem.  But nowhere is 14 more significant than in our Constitution because the 14th Amendment is one of, if not, the most important amendments in terms of our rights. 

The 14th Amendment, adopted July 28th, 1868, granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” (including slaves) and required states to provide equal protection to all citizens.  Since it's adoption, the 14th Amendment has been cited over 337,000 by U.S. Courts including nearly 2800 references by the U.S. Supreme Court, more than any other provision in the U.S. Constitution.

Since its ratification over 150 years ago, the 14th Amendment certainly has left an indelible mark on the landscape of our country:

In light of this year’s presidential election, a 14th Amendment discussion would not be complete without analyzing how equal protection has affected voting rights.  Because there was no right to vote enumerated in the Constitution, this right has been judicially created through the 14th Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause.  Through the use of the Equal Protection Clause, the Supreme Court has created the right for a person to vote and has further ensured that one’s vote has equal power to another’s vote:

  • Known together as the apportionment cases, two Supreme Court decisions created what subsequently became known as the one-person, one-vote principle. First, in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 82 S. Ct. 691, 7 L. Ed. 2d 663, 1962 U.S. LEXIS 1567 (U.S. 1962), the Supreme Court determined that plaintiffs had a justiciable action under the Equal Protection Clause when they alleged that a state apportionment statute denied them equal protection by virtue of the debasement of their votes.  The Court found that plaintiffs’ right to relief under the Equal Protection Clause would not be diminished by the fact that the discrimination related to political and voting rights. Then, in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S. Ct. 1362, 12 L. Ed. 2d 506, 1964 U.S. LEXIS 1002 (U.S. 1964), the Supreme Court held that the Equal Protection Clause demanded “no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens...Legislators represent people, not trees or acres.  Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.”  [Quoting Chief Justice Earl Warren.]

  • Recently, in Evenwel et al. v. Abbott, Governor of Texas, et al. (Decided April 4, 2016), the Supreme Court determined that the one-person, one-vote doctrine does not prohibit states from determining their voting districts based on total population numbers instead of numbers related to registered voters.  “As the framers of the Constitution and the 14th Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all the residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote.”  [Quoting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.]

What do the next 100 years hold in store for 14th Amendment?  The trending of equal protection jurisprudence and litigation could signal infinite groups with constitutional claims for “heightened scrutiny” against laws that intentionally discriminate against them.  For example, the 14th Amendment is being cited amid the debate over North Carolina’s HB2 “bathroom bill.”  The 14th Amendment also is being included in the conversations stirred by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump when he said he would overturn the “law” that grants automatic citizenship to people born in the United States.  Whatever is in store, it is safe to say the 14th Amendment will continue to be cited as an example of why the number 14 is significant.

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