The Bill of Rights are popular for being the first ten ratified. But there are other important amendments too. Today Brittany and Connor discuss the Fourteenth Amendment and how it holds the states accountable to the Constitution.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Connor.
Connor: Hey, Brittany. We’ve covered on past episodes a lot of the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution that were ratified soon after the Constitution was today. I wanna talk at least for a little bit about one of the other amendments, the 14th Amendment. And, I think it makes, for good timing just cuz we, previously talked about the Fifth Amendment, and that has a portion that talks about due process. And we talked about how we need protection and our rights. The government, if it wants to restrict us, it has to, kind of have these hurdles to overcome, whether for the substantive, rights or just the procedural fairness and how the government does that. And so the Fifth Amendment has some of that in there. But the 14th Amendment is a little bit related, and is also important for due process, right? Making sure that, the government has to kind of follow, a process before it can, you know, punish you or try to punish you. And so, the Fifth Amendment, interestingly, one of the caveats there is initially, at least before something called incorporation, which we can talk about later. really only applied to the federal level. And so then along comes the 14th, amendment later on. And, so I wanna, there’s different parts, but I wanna focus, just about the first section and, then Brittany, I’ll ask you to help unpack it a little bit. And so, again, bear with us. This is kind of constitution language, kind of, daunting, but we’re gonna unpack it for you and talk about it a little bit. So here’s what section one of the 14th Amendment says. Says this, 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. So, Britney, help unpack this a bit.
Brittany: Your first word I wanna talk about is jurisdiction, cuz that’s kind of a hard word. Jurisdiction is the area where law enforcement or the government has power, right? There’s different jurisdictions. And I think on another episode, we’ll need to talk about different courts because that’s a whole other story. But not everyone. So let’s say you live in town A. police officer who lives in town B can’t pull you over in town A. He doesn’t have jurisdiction to do that. So that’s kind of what that means. It’s where the government’s authority is. So, now I’m packing a little bit further. What the 14th Amendment really did that was so important is it applied the constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. But it applied to the states. And in another episode, we talked about the 10th Amendment, which gave the states a lot of freedom to pass their own laws and make their own policies. But the 14th ensures that all people in this country, no matter what state they’re in, or matter what, you know, where they live, as long as it’s in the United States, they’re still protected by these constitutional powers.
Connor: There’s, an interesting, you know, a bit of history here, of course, because the 14th Amendment is coming, you know, the civil basically not during the Bill of Rights when the Constitution was ratified. This is later, this is, you know civil Wars happened. there’s this big fight over slavery about the rights of black people, the rights even of freed black people and, whether they, you know, would have the same, rights of citizenship. and that, is also one of the terms used in the amendment right? It says all persons born or naturalized in the United States. And naturalized basically just means you become a citizen. you know, cuz someone who grew up in a different country, they can still come to America and become a citizen. And so that’s what that means. And so this language here is saying they too, you know, all these people, your citizens of the United States and of the state where they reside. So you couldn’t have this southern state, you know, after the Civil War says, oh, well, you know, sure, we can’t have slavery anymore. But all these black people, they’re not citizens. They don’t have the same rights. They can’t vote for example. Right? And so, you know, that was an effort that that many were trying to do in order to prevent black people from having a say in the government to make sure that they didn’t have power to change things. so that, you know, white people could continue to wield, political power over them and keep them separate and subdued. And, so it shows you that the problems, of course, with political power, right? Yeah. Like the quote from, who is it, Lord Acton, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely.
Brittany: Yeah, Yeah, I love that one.
Connor: When people have power, it often goes to their heads, like our hero and villain, episode previously, right? There’s fewer ways, more common ways that people become villains than those who obtain power. It’s really hard to be a villain when you don’t have any power, but when you do have power, you tend to become a villain. And so you saw after the Civil War, all this political power was still being exercised, against black people. And, so there was this whole commission to try and assess like, you know, how can we have more equality? And, how can we fix these problems? And it was kind of decided that a constitutional amendment was what was needed. and so that led here to the 14th Amendment where, you know, this language is saying they are citizens of both the United States and of the state, in which you reside. And, that you can’t deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. You can’t, deny to anyone the equal protection of laws, right? This is a language that has since been used in other ways outside of a black, white, racial way. for example, supporters of, gay marriage in years past relied upon this language to say, well, we should have equality. and of course, there were strong, debates on both sides of that issue. So, my point in bringing it up is that this language had a specific historical context, right? it was born out of this slavery issue, but the wording was created in such a way that it did not only relate to that issue, right? It’s talking broadly about due process, about citizenship, about equal protection. And, these are issues that are debated heavily in the courts, as you know, Brittany. And, those debates, those legal debates span many different issues where people are alleging, you know, that hey, there’s, we need equal protection. I mean, it could be a religious liberty issue where, you know, a certain church or religion feels that it’s being legally persecuted, and they could then use, you know, this same language and say, well, equal protection, you need to treat us the same. And so it’s written broadly as constitutional language typically is, right? as, usually, constitutional amendments are written with a kind of generic broad language, which can then later be debated in court. And so we’ve seen that the 14th Amendment has had relevance beyond just that kind of racial issue, out of which it was born.
Brittany: Yeah. But there’s, so I wanna bring up say one thing and, then bring up a new case that is actually kind of about race. so 1868 is when it was ratified. Just for context, there’s a case in Colorado going on right now with COVID Relief that I find fascinating. It’s almost like we did a 180. So a lot of small businesses are struggling because of the COVID shutdowns, which by the time this airs will be over a year. And I mean, that’s crazy to me. I remember thinking a year ago, like, oh, there’s no way this is gonna last a year, but.
Connor: Flatten the curve, right?
Brittany: Yeah. It’s gonna be like 20 years to flatten the curve eventually, and we’ll all still be wearing masks. I’m a little bitter. But anyway, so there’s this case going on in Colorado where these small business owners were desperately trying to stay afloat. I’m also not advocating that the government needs to bail out small businesses. I wanna make that clear. But if they’re going to, they still have to abide by the 14th Amendment. So this bill comes out, and originally it’s like, all right, we’re gonna give 4 million to small businesses, but wait, you don’t get it unless you’re a minority. You only get it if you’re a minority. now they’ve since tweaked the language to say you’ll get first preference like you’re gonna give, get preferential treatment if you’re a minority. But that is still a major violation of the 14th Amendment. And so that’s being taken to court. But I mean, can you imagine trying to keep your business afloat? The only reason you can’t keep it afloat is because the government is telling you you’re not allowed to. Then, they introduce this bill, they’re like, oh, I’m sorry. No, you’re not a minority, so you can’t get it. And, you know, we don’t choose the race we’re born, right? If this was flipped, if this was a bill that was saying, you only get it if you’re white, it would be equally egregious. And egregious means just terrible. Right? So it’s funny to me how now we’re kind of justifying that it’s okay if we switch sides, but it’s not, the 14th amendment applies to the states and they have to, it’s called equality before. The law is, what that statute means. And that means that it doesn’t matter who we are, it doesn’t matter what gender we are. It doesn’t matter what race we are. It doesn’t matter how old we are. Everybody needs to be treated fairly under the law.
Connor: Well, and you know, you say that, and of course I think that’s something everyone can agree with, right? For the most part. Yeah. And yet we still have issues. And historically there have been a lot of issues. And, you know, it’s tough. I mean, people, we all have, biases we have, which means like pressures that lead us to think a certain way, just because of how we were raised, for example, the environment we were in, the culture we were in, and what other people believed. Like we all have this in life. And so it’s really interesting that these debates continue to happen in terms of what is, equality and, what is the proper role of government to enforce, you know, that equality. And the challenge, Brittany, as you know, is that the more and more government gets involved in our lives, it has a lot of like, you know, think of like, you know, what were they called? The Harlem Globe Trotters, or, I don’t know. They’re awesome. Are they still around? Is that?
Brittany: I don’t, I haven’t heard of ’em in a while, but I remember the nineties. They were huge.
Connor: Yeah. These guys are or were maybe past tense. You can go find videos on YouTube. They’re really fun. The Harlem Globe Trotters and there are basketball players who can do these stunts, right? And they can like spin these balls on their fingers and then they’ll move it from their finger to their, they
Brittany: Had that song too, with the whistling. Do you remember the song?
Connor: Oh, that’s right. That’s right. And so they’ll put one of the spinning balls on their knee and then their toe, and then their shoulder, and they have like six going at once. And that’s what I feel like, that’s what I visualize when I think of how involved the government is in so many things. And then because of the 14th amendment, it has to maintain equality all over the place for everything, right? It’s like, okay, the is spinning all these balls and oh, the left shoulder isn’t spinning quite the way that the right shoulder’s ball is I need to spin all these balls and make sure like, no, no, no. Hey, government just butt out. Right? Like, going back to the example of gay marriage, that was such a big debate, obviously. And, and people who are listening right now, have very strong feelings on that issue to this day, as do I. But to me, it was like, guys, the government shouldn’t be involved in marriage. This was always a church thing and a personal thing, right? In fact, going back to this, origin story of the 14th Amendment, I’ll have to just pause briefly to share this. And Brittany, maybe, maybe you know this already. The whole reason we have marriage licensure today is because centuries ago people wanted to prohibit interracial marriages. Yep. They wanted to prohibit people from marrying people of another race. And, not just blacks. I mean, there, there were other ones as well. And so, but you know, especially blacks later on. And so the government started to license marriage because the power to license is the power to deny. In other words, if you can require Brittany to get a permission slip before she, you know, writes anything, you then have the power to deny Britney from writing things that you don’t like because she’s only legally allowed to do the things for which you give her a license. And so the power to license marriage is the power then to deny certain marriages. In fact, just a few years ago, there was a judge who denied a marriage license for an interracial That’s right. Couple. And he made national, I think international news and quickly was overturned and, dropped it. But, to this day, there was this person who was trying to use the government’s power to say, I don’t think a black and a white, couple should be married. And, that’s the whole reason we have marriage licensure today. So then that of course leads to this whole kerfuffle about gay marriage, and let’s fight and, let’s go to the Supreme Court and let’s duke it out. But the whole problem is that the government’s involved in the first place, Harlem Globetrotters, these politicians are putting all these balls trying to keep everything equal under the 14th Amendment. Oh, that one got wobbly. We have a lawsuit. We gotta make that one equal too. When in reality, I think so many of the solutions are just to say, can we get the government out of this? Let, the market handle equality, let people go. If they wanna go do their own civil commitment ceremony or their own, whatever their church wants to give them a, you know, marriage certificate, awesome. Fine, let people make those private decisions. But I just continue to be amazed at the degree to which the government gets involved in so many things in our life. And then we have to talk about equality when I think the better conversation in many respects is, can we just get the government out of this?
Brittany: Yep. I think you’re right. And I’m actually gonna, I’ll link in the show notes to the Loving Case, which is I think one of the most, ugh, it’s just heartbreaking, but also a happy ending. And that’s like you said, it’s one of those interracial couples, I think one of the most famous, cases. So I’ll link to that. I think that’s an interesting read for parents and kids.
Connor: All right, we’ll wrap it up guys there. So head to Tuttletwins.com/podcast. Thanks as always for listening. We enjoy, sharing this stuff with you guys. Make sure you share it with a friend. Let others know about the podcast, Tuttletwins.com/podcast. Until next time, Brittany, we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.