Fourteenth Amendment (United States) (1868)


Proposed in 1865 and ratified in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States defined citizenship to include former slaves and to protect them from violations of their civil rights. Aimed at state abuses against African Americans in the wake of the Civil War (1861–65), it also provided equal protection to naturalized immigrants.
Section One of the amendment stated that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States” and that the government may not deprive them of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” or deny them “equal protection” before the law. The “due process” clause was later interpreted by the courts to extend to state as well as federal law; and the “equal protection” clause, to such categories as sex and disability, as well as race. Other sections of the amendment eliminated the three-fifths compromise, by which only 60 percent of the slave population was counted for purposes of state representation in the House of Representatives; prohibited the holding of public office by anyone who had sworn an oath to the government and then rebelled; voided debts incurred in support of rebellion; and gave Congress the authority to pass enforcing legislation.
Fourteenth Amendment protections extended specifically to immigrants in many ways, especially as courts began to interpret its clauses more broadly in the 20th century. Segregation of housing by race was, in part, invalidated on Fourteenth Amendment grounds. The Supreme Court referred to it in Graham v. Richardson (1971) in establishing that “alienage,” like race, was inherently suspect as a category before the law. Also, when the state of Texas refused to finance the education of illegal alien children, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe (1982) that the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to citizens alone, but under the equal protection clause to all people “within the jurisdiction” of the state.

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