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The Fourteenth Amendment – Constitutional Law Essay

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Updated: Mar 27th, 2020

The end of the Civil War led to the defeat of the Confederacy (Ville 179). Abraham Lincoln’s administration declared the slaves free. However, there was still a hovering dilemma concerning the defunct Confederate states and the position of slaves within the United States. Responding to this dilemma, Congress introduced three Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment that provided for the rights of the newly-freed slaves was among the three amendments.

After the Civil War, Congress presented the three amendments to the states as part of the United States’ Reconstruction initiative to ensure equal legal and civil rights for black American citizens (Ville 179). The Fourteenth Amendment aimed at granting citizenship to all individuals naturalized or born in the United States.

Secondly, the Amendment prohibited states from depriving any person of property, liberty, or life without following due process, or disallowing any American the equal rights under the law. The Amendment, thus, implied that both federal and state governments had a responsibility to ensure due process and equal protection of the law. In 1868, three-quarters of the states had ratified the Amendment, making it part of the Constitution (Epps 184).

The second section of the Amendment allowed for the repeal of the three-fifths clause of the original Constitution that reckoned slaves as a three-fifths of a person with respect to the apportionment of Congressional representation (Ville 180).

Since the Thirteenth Amendment had outlawed slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment made it clear that all Americans, regardless of their race, must be reckoned as one whole person. This part of the Amendment also provided that all male residents with twenty-one years and above, regardless of their race, were eligible to vote. In practice, many states during the Jim Crow administration had devised tactics to lock out blacks from voting (Epps 175).

The third part of the Amendment prohibited the president from allowing former Confederacy leaders to amass power after their acquisition of full citizenship rights through a pretended presidential pardon. The Amendment stipulated that former Confederates could regain their citizenship rights only through a two-thirds Congress majority.

Thus, they could not vote in federal elections or hold federal offices unless they received a two-thirds vote. The purpose of this provision was to restrict the Republican lawmakers from disputing with Andrew Johnson’s administration with respect to the treatment of states of the former Confederacy (Ville 201).

The fourth section provided for the prohibition of payment of pending debts to the outmoded Confederate states. It also provided for the banning of payments to former owners of slaves as compensation for losing their human property (Ville 208). The function of this section was to invalidate slavery and bring a new order in the United States that promote respect for fundamental human rights.

The major aim of the provision was to uphold the Civil Rights Act. However, the decisions of the court limited the Equal Protection clause. For instance, the Supreme Court in Plessy v Ferguson allowed states to segregate citizens given that the facilities accommodated both whites and blacks. Though the Supreme Court had become more sympathetic to the rights of minorities, it continued to restrain the relevance of the Equal Protection provision to causes of state action.

This limitation made Congress rely on its supremacy in the commerce clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban segregation in public accommodation. The ban resulted in the creation of the separate but equal doctrine. The court believed that this principle adequately satisfied the provisions of the 14th Amendment. In 1954, a half-century later, the case of Brown v Board of Education overturned the decision in the Plessy Case by ruling that segregation was unconstitutional (Ville 180).

The Fourteenth Amendment also provides that both state and federal governments should abide by the Bill of Rights. The provision, in effect, meant that both governments had to abide by the Equal Protection Clause. The Amendment formed an effective basis for the Civil Rights Movement that was very proactive between 1955 and 1968 and numerous segregation lawsuits (Lee 2).

Ultimately, the Supreme Court used the due process provided to apply the main guarantees of the Bill of Rights to both federal and state governments via the process of ‘incorporation’ or ‘absorption.’ Throughout the twentieth century, corporate lawyers implored courts to reckon corporations as ‘persons’ under the law. The court’s jurisprudence has extended the meaning of the word ‘person’ to include a corporation. Thus, the Amendment also grants equal protection and due process to all corporations (Lee 2).

Even though the Fourteenth Amendment led to far-reaching results, it was difficult for the courts and lawmakers to interpret (Steiner, Mason and Hayes 24). There was a huge conflict between the plans to protect former slaves, and the desire of the Constitution to protect the federal arrangement that put emphasis on state decision-making. After the Reconstruction period and the withdrawal of federal troops from the Confederate states, the country’s desire to shift back to normalcy resulted in less support for black rights.

Currently, the greatest contention with respect to the Fourteenth Amendment is that the framers did not put into account the effects of birthright citizenship (Steiner, Mason and Hayes 25). At the time of creating the Amendment, there were no unlawful immigrants in the country. It is interesting that the framers did not have any consideration for immigration because their concern was to accord equal rights to the enslaved blacks.

Steiner and colleagues point out that over 75% of the children to illegal immigrants are citizens of the United States (26). The illegal immigrants also enjoy all constitutional provisions intended for American nationals such as the Fourth Amendment privacy protections.

The overwhelming immigration into the United States has led to increased views that either statutory or constitutional amendments should be made to limit automatic birthright citizenship. The proposed amendments intend to restrain individuals born in America to mothers who are illegally residing in the country from acquiring citizenship.

The Fourth Amendment, as part of the supreme law of the land, cannot be changed easily. States proposing immigration reforms have planned to establish laws that will provide for two types of citizenship: the first type is for children to legal parents while the second is for children to illegal parents. Opponents to these reforms contend that it is not constitutional for a state to make such laws because citizenship is a federal issue (Steiner, Mason and Hayes 28).

Today, the Fourteenth Amendment is still a critical foundation for a democratic country. Alongside the 13th and 15th Amendments, the 14th Amendment still maintains the pledge of the United States that all people have equal rights before the law regardless of nationality, racial, or gender differences (Ville 184). This Amendment has a strong constitutional principle making it difficult to correct the negative outcomes arising from the same.

Works Cited

Epps, Garrett. “The Antebellum Political Background of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Law and Contemporary Problems (2004): 175-211. Web.

Lee, Margaret. Birthright Citizenship under the 14th Amendment of Persons Born in the United States to Alien Parents. Washington DC: Diane Publishing, 2011. Print.

Steiner, Niklaus, Mason Robert, and Anna Hayes. Migration and Insecurity: Citizenship and Social Inclusion in a Transitional Era. 711 Third Avenue, New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Ville, John. A Companion to the United States Constitution and Its Amendments. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, 2010. Print.

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