A few days ago, we celebrated Independence Day, and remembered the document that asserted our Freedom from British tyranny. Today is a less known anniversary, an anniversary of the day that equality was enshrined in our Constitution as a principle on par with liberty. Today is the 143rd anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment. More than any other Amendment to the Constitution (with the exception, of course, of the 13th Amendment) the 14th Amendment has been the Constitutional foundation of America’s progress over the past 100 plus years.
The Library of Congress provides an excellent summary of the 14th Amendment.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on July 9, 1868, and granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States,” which included former slaves recently freed. In addition, it forbids states from denying any person “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or to “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” By directly mentioning the role of the states, the 14th Amendment greatly expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans and is cited in more litigation than any other amendment.
The power of the 14th Amendment echoes through the eras, as evidenced by unconstitutional opposition to birthright citizenship for our neighbors with parents from Latin America. It provides the black-letter Constitutional basis for Federal government enforcement of civil rights within the states, much to the chagrin of Texas and, in some cases, Virginia. And it originated that inestimably wonderful phrase, “equal protection of the laws.” Where prior to the 14th Amendment, the equality of citizens under the laws had been assumed, but not truly honored, the 14th Amendment creates and affirmative duty of government to ensure the equality of all under the law.
Ever since its passage conservative interests (first, in the Democratic Party, and later in the Republican Party) have sought to undermine, eviscerate and minimize the 14th Amendment, but it remains a core part of the fundamental law of the land, and the basis of legal equality and progress in the 20th century.
It was the 14th Amendment that made Brown vs. Board possible. It is the 14th Amendment that calls marriage discrimination into real question. It is the 14th Amendment that forms the Constitutional foundation for progressivism in all its modern incarnations.
And so, today, I celebrate the anniversary of the ratification of the 14th Amendment. Ratified, it should be remembered, by Republican states and a Republican Congress. America is better, and stronger, and more just for the 14th Amendment, and I celebrate that today.