Thursday, September 30, 2010

US Constitution Series, Amendment XIV

Amendment XIV. Rights Guaranteed: Privileges and Immunities of Citizenship, Due Process, and Equal Protection

SECTION. 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

SECTION. 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

SECTION. 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

SECTION. 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

SECTION. 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
Section 1 is the subject of frequent court cases and is at the center of a current illegal immigration controversy. Section 1 contains the "due process" language that has been interpreted to extend the people's fundamental rights recognized in the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments) to bind the states to recognize those rights. Before this amendment, it was thought that the Bill of Right bound only the national government.

In the recent Supreme Court case of McDonald v. City of Chicago, counsel for Mr. McDonald focused on the "privileges and immunities" language to extend Second Amendment rights to the states, but the decision used the standard "due process" clause reasoning to say that the states had to recognize the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Books could be and have been written on this amendment alone. Sections two, three and four are not often discussed and relate primarily to issues arising from the Civil War. Section 2 was intended to discourage Southern states from keeping Black citizens from voting.  Section 3 creates a disability from rebels holding office, but only if the person had taken an oath to support the Constitution before the rebellion. This was obviously aimed at members of Congress who supported the Confederacy during the Civil War to prevent them from returning to Congress.

Section 4 forbade the payment of debts of the Confederacy and forbade the questioning of public debt incurred by the Union to fight the war. Today, though, this section may be cited if the debt continues to spiral. It would prevent the government from repudiating debt and simply walking away.

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