Fourteenth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment

Fourteenth Amendment, addition to the U.S. Constitution, adopted 1868. The amendment comprises five sections.

Section 1

Section 1 of the amendment declares that all persons born or naturalized in the United States are American citizens and citizens of their state of residence; the citizenship of African Americans was thereby established and the effect of the Dred Scott Case was overcome. The section forbids the states to abridge the privileges and immunities of U.S. citizens, to deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law (a similar provision restraining the federal government is in the Fifth Amendment), and to deny any person the equal protection of the laws.

Section 1 has been used extensively by the U.S. Supreme Court to test the validity of state legislation. The privileges and immunities of citizenship have never been defined by a majority of the court, but some justices have argued that among the activities envisaged are freedom to cross state boundaries and freedom to gather for peaceable discussion of legislation. The court has preferred to base its decisions on the due process and the equal protection clauses, which apply to all persons (the term person was soon applied to corporations as well as human beings) irrespective of citizenship.

Due Process of Law

In the early view of the court, a deprivation of life, liberty, or property simply meant the punishment for crime. The requirements of due process would be met by fair procedure, including notice to the defendant and an open trial with the right to counsel. In time, however, the court concluded that due process was not limited to procedural considerations but had a substantive aspect as well. Thus, even if proper legal procedure were observed, the substantive ground on which a person was deprived of life, liberty, or property might in itself violate due process. The constitutionality of much state legislation was opened to question, and so many laws were attacked that at times about one third of the cases before the Supreme Court dealt with due process. In early due process cases the court did not place limitations on traditional exercises of the police power. The constitutionality of state economic regulation was upheld in such early Fourteenth Amendment precedents as the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) and Munn v. Illinois (1877). However, subsequent due process interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment did severely restrain the power of the states to legislate on economic matters.

Equal Protection

The equal protection clause, which was also brought to bear on the economic legislation of the states, was held to invalidate restraints on corporations from which other businesses were exempted. In several early cases this clause was used to foster individual economic rights, with the court striking down state laws that prevented aliens from pursuing certain occupations. However, African Americans who claimed that the discrimination they suffered at the hands of private persons (e.g., exclusion from hotels) denied them the equal protection of law were refused redress by the court, which held that the Fourteenth Amendment was concerned with official state action only. In 1896, in the Plessy v. Ferguson case, the court enunciated the view that the states might provide segregated facilities for African Americans (e.g., in education), so long as they were equal to those afforded white persons: the so-called separate but equal doctrine.

The court substantially maintained the views outlined above until the 1930s, when drastic reinterpretations were made. (For factors producing the change, see Supreme Court, United States.) The court thereafter permitted state legislatures to make economic regulations without regard to the question of whether the businesses concerned were dedicated to the public interest. The states, it was also held, might meet the requirements of equal protection even if distinctions based upon "reasonable classifications" were made. Thus, corporations, with their great potential power and size, might reasonably be subjected to more severe restrictions than other types of business organizations. While the states were given greater freedom in enacting economic legislation, their power to limit personal liberties was brought under greater restraint.

Gradually, the protection afforded by the Bill of Rights against federal actions was almost entirely extended to the states. In a number of decisions, it was held that the provisions of the First Amendment were made applicable to the states by the substantive aspect of the due-process clause, in the so-called incorporation doctrine. Thus, the states, like the federal government, were forbidden to favor or suppress any religious establishment or to deny freedom of speech, of the press, and of peaceable assembly. With the new attitude of the court, the equal protection clause became one of the main weapons of those who were determined that African Americans should enjoy the same rights as other Americans. Although there had been decisions forbidding segregation on interstate transportation and ruling that state courts cannot enforce a restrictive covenant (an agreement that a buyer will not resell to certain categories of persons, e.g., African Americans or Jews), it was not until 1954 that the "separate but equal" doctrine was firmly repudiated (see Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kans.).

In recent years, the Supreme Court has also used the equal protection clause to invalidate legislation discriminating against women, to order the apportionment of state legislatures on the basis of population alone. The Court has also used the due process clause to extend to the states the protection against limitations on the right of privacy and women's right to an abortion (see Roe v. Wade). The 1986 case of Bowers v. Hardwick, however, came as a blow to the right of privacy. The Court ruled that individual state antisodomy laws were constitutional, and thus that the right of privacy was not violated by laws criminalizing homosexual acts in those states, but in 2003 the Court reversed itself and voided all antisodomy laws.

Sections 2-5

Section 2 provides for apportionment of membership in the House of Representatives on the basis of the whole state population, excluding Native Americans not taxed. A supplemental provision, intended to protect African-American suffrage but never implemented, allows reduction of the congressional representation of a state if male citizens over 21 years old are forbidden to vote. (The main effective constitutional guarantee of African-American suffrage has been the Fifteenth Amendment (adopted 1870), which forbids the United States or any state to abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.) Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment excludes from political office persons who, having sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution (e.g., army officers and members of Congress) violate this oath, as in the case of those who aided the Confederacy in the Civil War; Congress can remove this disability by a two-thirds vote of each house. Section 4 confirms the public debt but makes void all claims arising from credit extended to the Confederacy or from the loss of slaves. By Section 5, Congress is empowered to enact legislation enforcing the foregoing sections.


See M. K. Curtis, No State Shall Abridge: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Bill of Rights (1986); W. E. Nelson, The Fourteenth Amendment: From Political Principle to Judicial Document (1988).

The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution is one of the post-Civil War Reconstruction Amendments, first intended to secure the rights of former slaves. It was proposed on June 13, 1866, and ratified on July 9, 1868.

The amendment provides a broad definition of citizenship, overruling Dred Scott v. Sandford which had excluded slaves and their descendants from possessing Constitutional rights. The amendment requires states to provide equal protection under the law to all persons within their jurisdictions and was used in the mid-20th century to dismantle racial segregation in the United States, as in Brown v. Board of Education. Its Due Process Clause has been the basis of much important and controversial case law regarding privacy rights, abortion (see Roe v. Wade), and other issues.

The other two Reconstruction Amendments are the Thirteenth Amendment (banning slavery) and the Fifteenth Amendment (banning race-based voting qualifications). According to Supreme Court Justice Swayne, "Fairly construed, these amendments may be said to rise to the dignity of a new Magna Carta.


Citizenship and civil rights

The first section formally defines citizenship and protects people's civil rights from infringement by any State. This represented the Congress' reversal of that portion of the Dred Scott decision that declared that blacks were not and could not become citizens of the United States or enjoy any of the privileges and immunities of citizenship. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 had already granted U.S. citizenship to all people born in the United States; the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment added this principle into the Constitution to keep the Supreme Court from ruling the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to be unconstitutional for want of Congressional authority to pass such a law or a future Congress from altering it by a bare majority vote.

Citizenship Clause

The purpose of the Citizenship Clause was to provide citizenship to former slaves born in the United States.

During the original debate over the amendment, Senator Jacob Howard of Ohio, the author of the citizenship clause described the clause as . . . excluding not only Indians but “persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, [or] who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers.”

In 1884, the meaning was tested as to whether it meant that anyone born in the United States would be a citizen regardless of the parents' nationality, in the case of Elk v. Wilkins where the parents were Native American. The Supreme Court held that the children of Native Americans were not citizens despite the fact that they were born in the United States.

In 1898, the meaning was tested again in the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark regarding children of Chinese citizens born in United States. The court ruled that the children were U.S. citizens.

The distinction between "legal" and "illegal" immigrants was not clear at the time of the decision of Wong Kim Ark. Neither in that decision nor in any subsequent case has the Supreme Court explicitly ruled on whether children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents are entitled to birthright citizenship via the Amendment, although it has generally been assumed that they are. In some cases, the Court has implicitly assumed, or suggested in dicta, that such children are entitled to birthright citizenship: these include INS v. Rios-Pineda, and Plyler v. Doe, . Nevertheless, some claim that the Congress possesses the power to exclude such children from US citizenship by legislation.

The Constitution does not explicitly provide any procedure for loss of United States citizenship. Loss of U.S. citizenship is possible only under the following circumstances:

  • Fraud in the naturalization process. Technically, this is not loss of citizenship but rather a voiding of the purported naturalization and a declaration that the immigrant never was a U.S. citizen.
  • Voluntary relinquishment of citizenship. This may be accomplished either through renunciation procedures specially established by the State Department or through other actions which demonstrate an intent to give up U.S. citizenship.

For a long time, voluntary acquisition or exercise of a foreign citizenship was considered sufficient cause for revocation of U.S. citizenship. This concept was enshrined in a series of treaties between the United States and other countries (the Bancroft Treaties). However, the Supreme Court repudiated this concept in a 1967 case, Afroyim v. Rusk, as well as a 1980 case, Vance v. Terrazas, holding that the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment barred the Congress from revoking citizenship.

Civil and other individual rights


The Congress also passed the Fourteenth Amendment in response to the Black Codes that southern states had passed in the wake of the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery in the United States. Those laws attempted to return freed slaves to something like their former condition by, among other things, restricting their movement and by preventing them from suing or testifying in court.

Prior to the adoption of this Amendment, the Bill of Rights had been held by the Supreme Court to not apply to the States. While many states modeled their constitutions and laws after the United States Constitution and federal laws, those state constitutions did not necessarily include provisions comparable to the Bill of Rights. According to some commentators, the framers and early supporters of the Fourteenth Amendment believed that it would ensure that the states would be required to recognize the individual rights the federal government was already required to respect in the Bill of Rights and in other constitutional provisions; all of these rights were likely understood to fall within the "privileges or immunities" safeguarded by the Amendment. However, the Supreme Court limited the reach of the Amendment by holding in the Slaughterhouse Cases (1873) that the "privileges or immunities" clause was limited to "privileges or immunities" granted to citizens by the federal government in virtue of national citizenship. The Court further held in the Civil Rights Cases that the Amendment was limited to "state action" and thus did not authorize the Congress to outlaw racial discrimination on the part of private individuals or organizations. Neither of these decisions has been overturned and in fact have been specifically reaffirmed several times.

In the decades following the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court overturned laws barring blacks from juries (Strauder v. West Virginia) or discriminating against Chinese-Americans in the regulation of laundry businesses (Yick Wo v. Hopkins), under the aegis of the Equal Protection Clause.

Beginning in the 1880s, the Court interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause as providing substantive protection to private contracts and thus prohibiting a range of social and economic regulation. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment protected "freedom of contract" or the right of employees and employers to bargain for wages without great interference from the state. Thus, the Court struck down a law decreeing maximum hours for workers in a bakery in Lochner v. New York (1905) and struck down a minimum wage law in Adkins v. Children's Hospital (1923). The Court did uphold some economic regulation, however, including state prohibition laws (Mugler v. Kansas), laws declaring maximum hours for mine workers (Holden v. Hardy), laws declaring maximum hours for female workers (Muller v. Oregon) as well as federal laws regulating narcotics (United States v. Doremus) and President Wilson's intervention in a railroad strike (Wilson v. New).

The Court overruled Lochner, Adkins, and other precedents protecting "liberty of contract" in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937), decided in the midst of the New Deal and in the shadow of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's threats to "pack the court" following a series of decisions holding other New Deal legislation unconstitutional. Whether the threat actually caused Justice Roberts to change his vote—some people at the time joked "a switch in time saved nine"—is still debated; Roosevelt's proposal to expand the Court was defeated.

In Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court held that the states could impose segregation so long as they provided equivalent facilities—the genesis of the "separate but equal" doctrine. The popular understanding of what was encompassed under "civil rights" was much more restricted during the time of the Fourteenth Amendment's ratification than the present understanding, involving such things as equal treatment in criminal and civil court, in sentencing, and in availability of civil services if they apply.

The Court went even further in restricting the Equal Protection Clause in Berea College v. Kentucky, holding that the states could force private actors to discriminate by prohibiting an integrated college from admitting both black and white students. By the early twentieth century, the Equal Protection Clause had been eclipsed to the point that Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. dismissed it as "the usual last resort of constitutional arguments.


The Court held to the "separate but equal" doctrine for more than fifty years, despite numerous cases in which the Court itself had found that the segregated facilities provided by the states were almost never equal, until Brown v. Board of Education (1954) reached the Court. Brown met with a campaign of resistance from white Southerners, and for decades the federal courts attempted to enforce Brown's mandate against continual attempts at circumvention. This resulted in the controversial forced busing decrees handed down by federal courts in many parts of the nation, including major Northern cities such as Detroit (Milliken v. Bradley) and Boston.

In the half century since Brown, the Court has extended the reach of the Equal Protection Clause to other historically disadvantaged groups, such as women, aliens, and illegitimate children, although it has applied a somewhat less stringent test than it has applied to governmental discrimination on the basis of race.

In the past forty years it has recognized a number of "fundamental rights" of individuals, such as privacy and some parental rights, which the states can regulate only under narrowly defined circumstances. In effect, it has found an alternative mechanism for fulfilling many of the intentions the amendment's framers and ratifiers expressed in the Privileges or Immunities Clause, though without acknowledging the inconsistency of earlier decisions with that clause or opting to apply all of the rights in the Bill of Rights to the states.

By way of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, nearly all of the rights in the Bill of Rights have been applied to the states, under what's known as the incorporation doctrine. As a result, the Fourteenth Amendment not only empowered the federal courts to intervene in this area to enforce the guarantee of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, but also to import the substantive rights of free speech, freedom of religion, protection from unreasonable searches and cruel and unusual punishment, and other limitations on governmental power. At the present, the Supreme Court has held that the Due Process Clause incorporates all of the substantive protections of the First, Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments and all of the Fifth Amendment other than the requirement that any criminal prosecution must follow a grand jury indictment, but none of the provisions of the Seventh Amendment relating to civil trials. Thus, the Court has also greatly expanded the reach of procedural due process, requiring some sort of hearing before the government may terminate civil service employees, expel a student from public school, or cut off a welfare recipient's benefits.

Though the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment did not believe it would expand voting rights (leading to the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment), the Supreme Court, since Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964), has interpreted the Equal Protection Clause as requiring the states to apportion their congressional districts and state legislative seats on a "one-person, one-vote" basis. The Court has also struck down districting plans in which race was a major consideration. In Shaw v. Reno (1993), the Court prohibited a North Carolina plan aimed at creating majority-black districts to balance historic underrepresentation in the state's Congressional delegations. In League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (2006), the Court ruled that Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting plan intentionally diluted the votes of Latinos and thus violated the Equal Protection Clause. In both of those cases, however, the Court refused to interfere with partisan gerrymandering as opposed to racial or ethnic gerrymandering, seeing it as within the valid scope of state authority.'''

Apportionment of Representatives

The section establishes rules for the apportioning of Representatives in the Congress to states, essentially counting all residents for apportionment and reducing apportionment if a state wrongfully denies a person's right to vote. This section overrode the provisions of Article I of the Constitution that counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for purposes of allotting seats in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.

However, the provision calling for proportional decreases in representation in the House of Representatives for states that denied men 21 and older the right to vote was never enforced, despite the fact that Southern states prevented many blacks from voting before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Some have argued that Section 2 was implicitly repealed by the Fifteenth Amendment, but it should be noted that the Supreme Court has acknowledged the provisions of Section 2 in modern times. For example, in Richardson v. Ramirez, the Court invoked Section 2 to justify the disenfranchisement of felons by the states. In his dissent, Justice Marshall explained the history of the Section 2 in relation to the Post-Civil War Reconstruction era:

The historical purpose for section 2 itself is, however, relatively clear and, in my view, dispositive of this case. The Republicans who controlled the 39th Congress were concerned that the additional congressional representation of the Southern States which would result from the abolition of slavery might weaken their own political dominance. There were two alternatives available-either to limit southern representation, which was unacceptable on a long-term basis, or to insure that southern Negroes, sympathetic to the Republican cause, would be enfranchised; but an explicit grant of suffrage to Negroes was thought politically unpalatable at the time. Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment was the resultant compromise. It put Southern States to a choice-enfranchise Negro voters or lose congressional representation. [...] Section 2 provides a special remedy-reduced representation-to cure a particular form of electoral abuse-the disenfranchisement of Negroes.

Participants in rebellion

This section prevents the election or appointment to any federal or State office of any person who had held any of certain offices and then engaged in insurrection, rebellion, or treason. A two-thirds vote by Congress can override this limitation, however. This disqualification could not have been enacted as a statute, because it would have been an ex post facto punishment. In 1975, Robert E. Lee's citizenship was restored by a joint congressional resolution, retroactive to June 13, 1865. In 1978, two-thirds votes of both Houses of Congress were obtained, posthumously removing the service ban from Jefferson Davis.

Validity of public debt

This section confirmed that neither the United States or any state would pay "damages" for the loss of slaves, or debts that had been incurred by the Confederacy. For example, several English and French banks had loaned money to the South during the war.

Power of enforcement

Although in Katzenbach v. Morgan (1966) the Warren Court construed this section broadly, the Rehnquist Court tended to construe it narrowly, as in City of Boerne v. Flores (1997) and Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett (2001). Also see Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs (2003) and Tennessee v. Lane (2004).

Proposal and ratification

The Congress proposed the Fourteenth Amendment on June 13, 1866. There being thirty-seven states in the Union at that time, twenty-eight ratifications were necessary for the Amendment's adoption. By July 9, 1868, twenty-eight states had ratified the Amendment:

  1. Connecticut (June 25, 1866)
  2. New Hampshire (July 6, 1866)
  3. Tennessee (July 19, 1866)
  4. New Jersey (September 11, 1866)
  5. Oregon (September 19, 1866)
  6. Vermont (October 30, 1866)
  7. Ohio (January 4, 1867)*
  8. New York (January 10, 1867)
  9. Kansas (January 11, 1867)
  10. Illinois (January 15, 1867)
  11. West Virginia (January 16, 1867)
  12. Michigan (January 16, 1867)
  13. Minnesota (January 16, 1867)
  14. Maine (January 19, 1867)
  15. Nevada (January 22, 1867)
  16. Indiana (January 23, 1867)
  17. Missouri (January 25, 1867)
  18. Rhode Island (February 7, 1867)
  19. Wisconsin (February 7, 1867)
  20. Pennsylvania (February 12, 1867)
  21. Massachusetts (March 20, 1867)
  22. Nebraska (June 15, 1867)
  23. Iowa (March 16, 1868)
  24. Arkansas (April 6, 1868)
  25. Florida (June 9, 1868)
  26. North Carolina (July 4, 1868, after having rejected it on December 14, 1866)
  27. Louisiana (July 9, 1868, after having rejected it on February 6, 1867)
  28. South Carolina (July 9, 1868, after having rejected it on December 20, 1866)

*Ohio passed a resolution that purported to withdraw its ratification on January 15, 1868. The New Jersey legislature also tried to rescind its ratification on February 20, 1868. The New Jersey governor had vetoed his state's withdrawal on March 5, and the legislature overrode the veto on March 24. Accordingly, on July 20, 1868, Secretary of State William H. Seward certified that the amendment had become part of the Constitution if the rescissions were ineffective. The Congress responded on the following day, declaring that the amendment was part of the Constitution and ordering Seward to promulgate the amendment.

Meanwhile, two additional states had ratified the amendment:

  1. Alabama (July 13, 1868, the date the ratification was "approved" by the governor)
  2. Georgia (July 21, 1868, after having rejected it on November 9, 1866)

Thus, on July 28, Seward was able to certify unconditionally that the Amendment was part of the Constitution without having to endorse the Congress's assertion that the withdrawals were ineffective.

There were additional ratifications and rescissions; by 2003, the Amendment had been ratified by every state in the Union as of 1868:

  1. Oregon (withdrew October 15, 1868)
  2. Virginia (October 8, 1869, after having rejected it on January 9, 1867)
  3. Mississippi (January 17, 1870)
  4. Texas (February 18, 1870, after having rejected it on October 27, 1866)
  5. Delaware (February 12, 1901, after having rejected it on February 7, 1867)
  6. Maryland (1959)
  7. California (1959)
  8. Oregon (1973)
  9. Kentucky (1976, after having rejected it on January 8, 1867)
  10. New Jersey (2003, after having rescinded on February 20, 1868)
  11. Ohio (2003, after having rescinded on January 15, 1868)

Controversy over ratification

In 1968, the Utah Supreme Court diverged from the habeas corpus issue in a case to express its resentment against recent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court under the Fourteenth Amendment, and to attack the Amendment itself:
In order to have 27 states ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, it was necessary to count those states which had first rejected and then under the duress of military occupation had ratified, and then also to count those states which initially ratified but subsequently rejected the proposal.

To leave such dishonest counting to a fractional part of Congress is dangerous in the extreme. What is to prevent any political party having control of both houses of the Congress from refusing to seat the opposition and then without more passing a joint resolution to the effect that the Constitution is amended and that it is the duty of the Administrator of the General Services Administration to proclaim the adoption? Would the Supreme Court of the United States still say the problem was political and refuse to determine whether constitutional standards had been met?

How can it be conceived in the minds of anyone that a combination of powerful states can by force of arms deny another state a right to have representation in the Congress until it has ratified an amendment which its people oppose? The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted by means almost as bad as that suggested above.

The 1957 Georgia Memorial to Congress, a resolution passed by the Georgia legislature, disputed the validity of the ratification of the Amendment.

Supreme Court cases



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