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Privileges and Immunities

The privileges and immunities clause refers to a phrase in the 14th Amendment which states: “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Within five years of its adoption, the privileges and immunities clause of the 14th Amendment was interpreted very narrowly by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In In Re Slaughter-House Cases, the Court rejected the argument that the provision gave the federal government broad power to enforce civil rights, finding that to do so would infringe on a power that had belonged and should belong to the states. The Court found that the only privileges protected by the clause are those “which owe their existence to the Federal Government, its National character, its Constitution, or its laws,” all of which are already protected from state interference by the supremacy clause in Article VI.

Subsequent cases have recognized several federal privileges such as the right to travel from state to state, the right to petition Congress for a redress of grievances, the right to vote for national officers, and so forth, but other efforts to broaden the meaning of this clause have been rejected.

Justice Talking, United States Constitution, what it says, what it means, A Hip Pocket Guide (Oxford University Press)