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Law and the Fourteenth Amendment

This article was approved by Jim Adler

The United States Congress passed the 14th amendment on June 13, 1866. Two years later, Congress ratified the amendment to change portions of it. This amendment to the Constitution focuses on the rights of citizenship and Americans’ protections under the laws of the United States. The initial purpose of the 14th amendment was to address issues with former slaves integrating into American society. A number of legal issues have stemmed from the 14th amendment since its inception, including abortion and same-sex marriage. The interpretation of this amendment has impacted the law and legal actions taken by people representing local, state, and federal government.

The 14th amendment is often called the citizenship amendment, because it defines citizenship and outlines the rights and protections afforded to citizens. At the time the 14th amendment was added to the Constitution, the United States was dealing with the issues of former slaves and their newfound freedom. This amendment established that former slaves and Native Americans were American citizens. The amendment also established that once someone has this citizenship, it is permanent. Intentional misrepresentation during the process of citizenship would be the only way someone could lose citizenship.

The 14th amendment established due process for citizens. Under the 1st amendment, citizens have the liberty and freedom of assembly, speech, and the press. The 14th amendment ensures that citizens do not lose any of these freedoms without due process of law. Due process ensures that all criminal and civil proceedings that occur in the United States are carried out in accordance with established laws. The United States Supreme Court has had to define liberty, as it fits into due process, because although the term is somewhat ambiguous, liberty does not pertain only to physical freedoms. Liberty includes a range of activities and freedoms that citizens might engage in.

Citizens of the United States also enjoy equal protection under provisions of the 14th amendment. No American citizen can be discriminated against by state or federal laws. The institution of the 14th amendment and its extension to state governments was an important step after the end of the Civil War and eventually served as the legal catalyst for the elimination of segregation in southern states.

In 1973, Roe v. Wade established a woman’s right to personal privacy, provided under the 14th amendment’s due process clause. In the establishment of this right, the Court set a precedent of eliminating the unborn as a person in need of Constitutional protection. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage under the parameters of liberties granted under the 14th amendment.

Learn more about the 14th amendment and the freedoms and liberties it guarantees by using the following resources:

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