Why is the 14th Amendment so important to civil rights and liberties?

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astrocourt's profile pic

astrocourt | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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Amendment 14 was passed by Congress on June 13, 1866 and ratified on July 9, 1868. The Amendment is split into five sections. These are summarised below, the full text can be found at the archives.gov link below.

Section 1: All people born or naturalised in the USA are citizens. 
States cannot make a Law that over-rides national laws, or the rights of a citizen. A person cannot be punished unless 'due process' of the Law has taken place (i.e. a fair trial).
Why is this important? Every person born in the USA (including slaves and native Indians) has the same rights and responsibilities. Fair trials must take place and all can enjoy the benefits of citizenship.

Section 2: Citizens can vote for members of Government
Originally this section allowed only men over 21 years of age to vote. This section was further modified in the 26th Amendment.
Why is this important? Overrides Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 where only parts of the slave population were counted. This section has been further modified to negate any discrimination on the basis of sex or race.

Section 3: Officers of the Law or Government can't undertake rebellion or be treasonous
Elected officials must uphold the Laws and work for the country and its people.
Why is this important? This Section, especially its last clause, has been used to reinstate citizenship (albeit posthumously) and to prevent particular people from holding seats in the Government.

Section 4: The USA can take out debt to quash rebellion or pay pensions
The Government can spend any money to defend the country against rebellion, insurrection or to pay pensions. Money is not owed due to 'losses' from the freedom of a slave, nor can an individual (or State) support insurrection against the country.

Section 5: "The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article."
Standard final section for each Amendment.

Sources:
pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The 14th Amendment is important to these two things for different reasons.

It is important to civil rights because it is the amendment that says that all people must be treated equally.  If all people are to enjoy the “equal protection of the laws” then things like racial segregation are, we would think, unconstitutional.  The idea that all people should be treated equally is also a major argument being used by proponents of gay marriage, which is also a civil rights issue.

With regard to civil liberties, the connection is less clear.  However, the 14th Amendment is important in this regard because it says that states cannot deprive people of their life, liberty or property without due process of the law.  What the Supreme Court has said is that this means the states have to abide by most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights.  So, for example, the fact that the states have to adhere to the First Amendment is due to the fact that the 14th Amendment says (according to the Supreme Court) that they must.  Therefore, the 14th Amendment is also important for civil liberties.

gsenviro's profile pic

gsenviro | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The 14th Amendment is crucial to the civil rights and liberty of American citizens.

The amendment clarifies citizenship issues, provides for equal rights to all citizens and prohibits the State from violating these liberties without due process. The Amendments clarifies that any person born in the US, whether to foreign nationals or African-American parents (mostly former slaves at that time), are American citizens by right. The rights of all citizens are protected by Section 1 of 14th Amendment; all citizens have equal rights and liberties. This is very relevant for people of color (especially in those times) and civic activists in the present day. The amendment also ensures that the State does not deprive any citizen of life, liberty and property without due process and that all legal processes will be the same for all the citizens, under the same conditions. 

So the amendment provides equal rights to all citizens and ensures continued civil liberties.

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