frenchtown fiber

Chris Mundy and Kate House try to make art while navigating the crap life throws at them.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Small Measure of Freedom

I just submitted my final essay for my history class, so that makes me free as a bird who is not taking any courses next semester. Now I can just sit around and wait for hurricane Irene to hit. We have done virtually nothing to prepare. I expect we will get a lot of rain and wind. It is pretty common to get tropical storms around here this time of year. By common, I mean, I guess, every couple of years. Or house was flooded by a storm named Doria in 1971. The next real big one that flooded my parent's house was Floyd in 1999. There have been others, but I don't remember them. I am really really glad that my parents sold that house.

It's raining now, but there is not even any wind yet.
Hey, want to see my essay? It isn't too long, and you will most likely learn stuff about the 14th amendment. I would say it is the most important amendment. Many Supreme Court decisions are based on it. I really was not too familiar with it until now. Here, check it out:

The 14th Amendment Then and Now
As a result of the Civil War the slaves were set free, but blacks in the South still did not have any civil rights. Southern states had no intention of giving them the same rights as whites, but Northern states considered it essential, as so many had fought and died for it. At the time the North had total control of congress since the defeated states had no representatives yet. (Des Chenes, 2009)
The 14th Amendment was passed by Congress June 13, 1866. It was ratified July 9, 1868.
The 14th amendment brought about a huge change in the government of the US. Some scholars call it the “second constitution.” It has come to ensure that all Americans have equal protection under state and local laws and guarantees civil rights for everyone. (Des Chenes, 2009)
Section 1 states that everyone who is born or naturalized in the United States, except members of Indian Tribes and children of foreign diplomats, is a citizen of both the US and the state they live in. (The exception for Indians was overridden in 1924.) No State can make or enforce any law that deprives any person, not just citizens, of life, liberty, or property. Furthermore, every person within a state, not just citizens, must be treated equally by law without arbitrary discrimination.
Section 2 says that a state that denies the right to vote to any male citizen over the age of 21 will have their representation in the government reduced. This provision was intended to penalize Southern states if they did not allow blacks to vote. (The 26th amendment changed the voting age to 18.)
Section 3 states that no person who has previously pledged allegiance to the US government as a federal or state official is eligible to hold such an office again if they have participated in an insurrection against the US government.  This section was intended to prevent officials in Southern states who fought against the Union from holding office or military command in the future unless they were individually permitted to do so by congress.
Section 4 states that  the US must pay all of its debts, including benefits owed to members of the Union army or civilians who performed services. However, the US government is specifically forbidden to pay for any debt incurred by the Confederacy and will not compensate slaveholders for slaves lost because of emancipation.
Section 5 states that the Congress has the power to pass laws to enforce the provisions.
Today we think of equal rights as minority rights, but in many parts of the South after the Civil War blacks were in the majority. This was one of the reasons Southern states resisted giving blacks the right to vote. The whites would likely be voted out of office and blacks could hardly be expected to pass laws favorable to their former masters. Laws known as Black Codes were passed to restrict the rights of black citizens. (Des Chenes, 2009)
Congress needed to amend the constitution in order to have the power to regulate what the states did in that regard.
The main author of the 14th amendment, John Bingham, had a vision of an ideal republic in which everyone would be Equal. He said, “The equality of all to the right to live,  the right to know, to argue and to utter, according to conscience, to work and enjoy the product of their toil, is the rock on which the constitution rests, it’s sure foundation and defense." (Des Chenes, 2009)

Some people who argued against the bill were able to see a time when having this amendment in the constitution would lead to more rights for black men than anyone could imagine at the time. The Supreme Court has been arguing ever since about what the amendment implies.
In 1886 the Supreme Court case Yick Wo v. Hopkins, ruled that equal protection applied to everyone, including Chinese immigrants. This was the first time the law was acknowledged to apply to anyone besides black people. (Des Chenes, 2009)
The extent of the rights protected and the categories of people protected have continued to broaden gradually over the years. In 1896   in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decided that it was ok to provide separate accommodations to blacks and whites, as long as they were equal. In the 1954 decision  Brown v. Board of Education, it was struck down, In this decision, the court ruled that in the modern era, the mere fact of segregation had a detrimental effect on the education of black children. (Des Chenes, 2009)

In his book Marriage, Loving, and the Law, Kermit Roosevelt writes that the equal protection law does not ban all discrimination, only discrimination that is intended to oppress a particular group or brand its members as inferior. If there is a rational justification for discrimination, it is not unconstitutional. There was a time when most people believed there was a rational justification for banning interracial marriage. Social attitudes change, as we can see now in respect to homosexuality. At some point in the future, attitudes may change enough that if the Supreme Court validates same sex marriage, we will say, "what took so long?" just the same way as we say that now about the decision in Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state laws against interracial marriage. (Des Chenes, 2009)
Currently, a number of states have enacted laws requiring voters to show an unexpired government photo ID before being allowed to cast a ballot. Some are saying that the push for photo identification cards carries echoes of the Jim Crow laws — with their poll taxes and literacy tests — that inhibited black voters in the South from Reconstruction through the 1960s. Election experts say minorities, poor people, students and older voters are among those least likely to have valid driver’s licenses, the most common form of identification. While defending its photo ID law before the Supreme Court, Indiana was unable to cite a single instance of actual voter impersonation at any point in its history. (Alvarez, 2011)
Also, conservative legislators from five states have opened a national campaign to end the automatic granting of American citizenship to children born in the United States of illegal immigrants. (Preston, 2010)
Recently, the White House ruled out the possibility that President Obama would cite the 14th Amendment to disregard the debt-limit law during the recent battle in congress as to whether to raise the debt limit. (Calmes, & Steinhhaer, 2011)
It looks as though the 14th amendment will be revisited again and again as the US Supreme Court continues to interpret situations based on it.

Des Chenes, E. (2009). Amendment xiv: Equal Protection. Detroit: Greenhaven Press.

Preston, J. (2010, August 11). Births to illegal immigrants are studied. The New York Times, Retrieved from

Alvarez, L. (2011, May 28). Republican legislators push to tighten voting rules. The New York Times, Retrieved from
Calmes, J., & Steinhhaer, J. (2011, July 29). Rejecting the 14th amendment, again. The New York Times, Retrieved from

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