The 14th Amendment granted U.S. citizenship to former slaves and contained three new limits on state power: a state shall not violate a citizen’s privileges or immunities; shall not deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; and must guarantee all persons equal protection of the laws. These limitations on state power dramatically expanded the protections of the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court, in what is called “the doctrine of incorporation” has since interpreted the 14th Amendment to apply most provisions in the Bill of Rights against state and local governments as well.
The 14th Amendment says that anyone born or naturalized in the United States is a citizen and prevents states from denying “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The amendment also requires states to provide all citizens with “equal protection of the laws.”
After Susan B. Anthony casts her first vote as an attempt to test whether the 14th Amendment would be interpreted broadly to guarantee women the right to vote, she is tried and convicted in Canandaigua, N.Y., of “unlawful voting.”
In Minor v. Happersett, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Missouri law that allows only men to vote. It rejects a claim by Virginia Minor, who was not allowed to register to vote, that the law denies her one of the “privileges or immunities” of citizenship guaranteed in the 14th Amendment. The Court says that while women are “persons” under the 14th Amendment, they are a special category of “non-voting” citizens and that states remain free to grant or deny women the right to vote.
In Fallbrook Irrigation District v. Bradley, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a California law that imposed a tax on all landowners to pay for irrigation of drier land in the state. In deciding that the law does not violate property owners’ due process rights, the Court notes that the irrigation project qualifies as a “public use” – even if only certain landowners will benefit – because it helps the state’s economy as a whole. Notably, this case is decided before the takings clause is extended to the states and thus relies on the 14th Amendment’s due process clause rather than the Fifth Amendment. Nevertheless, the Court’s decision on what is a public purpose has been applied in other Fifth Amendment cases.
In Hodges v. United States, three men were convicted of conspiring to drive African Americans from their jobs at a lumber mill by intimidation and threats in violation of federal law. When overturning the convictions, the U.S. Supreme Court explains that neither the 14th Amendment nor 15th Amendment gives Congress or any law enforcement officials the power to regulate purely private acts of discrimination. The Court also says that the 13th Amendment has no role in this case. Although the purpose of the 13th Amendment is to abolish forced labor, it does not give the Court the power to criminalize private actions that prevent citizens of African descent from making and carrying out labor agreements. Rather, the Court holds that the conspiracy charge is a state matter and not a federal government concern.
In Minneapolis and St. Louis R. Co. v. Bombolis, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial in civil cases does not apply to civil trials in state courts. In reaching its decision, the Court looks to the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (the vehicle for applying the Bill of Rights to the states) and concludes that a jury trial in a civil case is not a fundamental due process right.
In Rindge Co. v. Los Angeles County, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a city council can take private ranch land to build a public highway, even though it does not connect with any other roads except at its entry and end points. The Court holds that for the improvement to be considered a public use, it is “not essential that the entire community, nor even any considerable portion, should directly enjoy or participate in any improvement.” The Court also notes that the road will give the public access to some of California’s most scenic coastline, which also qualifies as a valid public use: “Public uses are not limited, in the modern view, to matters of mere business necessity and ordinary convenience, but may extend to matters of public health, recreation and enjoyment.” Like the Fallbrook Irrigation District case (1986), this case was decided before the takings clause was extended to the states and thus relies on the 14th Amendment’s due process clause rather than the Fifth Amendment.
In Pierce v. Society of Sisters, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court invalidates an Oregon law that requires parents to send their children to public schools. The Court rules that parents have the constitutional right, under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, to direct their children’s educational as well as moral development, which includes sending their children to a school of their choice – even a private religious one.
During this period of racial segregation, many Southern states adopt the policy of collecting a poll tax from voters on Election Day. This tactic successfully denied the right to vote to many African American voters who could not afford the tax. In yet another case that disenfranchised African American voters, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Breedlove v Suttles that Georgia’s use of a poll tax did not violate the 14th or 15th Amendment. Poll taxes are regularly imposed until 1966, when the Supreme Court reverses itself in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections.
In In re Oliver, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the conviction of a Michigan man who was convicted and sentenced during a secret grand jury hearing before a single judge. The hearing had occurred under a Michigan law allowing a single judge to hold secret grand jury proceedings. The Court does not rule on the law because it was not challenged by the defendant. Grand jury proceedings, held to decide whether to issue an indictment (confirming enough evidence exists to take a case to full trial), traditionally are conducted in private. In this case, the one-man grand jury went further when the judge also decided the defendant’s guilt and sentenced him to jail.
President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 9981, requiring “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”
In MacDougall v. Green, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds an Illinois statute that requires political parties to obtain at least 25,000 signatures to put its candidate on the ballot for U.S. Senate. The statute also requires at least 200 signatures from each of at least 50 counties in the state.
The Progressive Party claims the statute violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and the people’s right to directly elect their senators as written in the 17th Amendment. Its claim is based on the fact that the law treated counties as if they all had the same population, but in reality most of the voters lived in a small number of counties in the Chicago area. The Court rules, however, that the law does not violate either amendment.
A Georgia law establishes a primary voting system in which the popular vote of each county determines which candidate wins that county. Each county is then assigned a certain number of unit votes and the winner of the most unit votes wins the election. Because urban counties have many more voters than rural counties, some saw equating the votes of the two counties as unfair.
Because each rural voter would have the same impact as several urban voters, the rural voters had a much larger impact on the outcome of the election. In South v. Peters, the plaintiffs argue that this system violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and the 17th Amendment’s call for direct election. The U.S. Supreme Court allows the law, saying that the problem is a political one that should be left to the state government.
In Hernandez v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the exclusion of Mexican Americans from a jury, through the prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges (objections to certain potential jurors serving on a jury without any specific reason), violates the 14th Amendment’s requirement that all people be treated equally.
In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that separate but equal is constitutional and rules that segregation is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court finds that the doctrine of separate but equal has no place in public schools. It holds that schools that are racially segregated are inherently unequal. The Court said: “[t]o separate [students] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”
In Chandler v. Fretag, the defendant said he did not want an attorney when he appeared in court to plead guilty to a charge of breaking and entering. At that time, he was told for the first time that he faced a sentence of life in prison because of his criminal record. He requested a delay so he could consult a lawyer on the habitual criminal charge, but his request was denied. The U.S. Supreme Court reverses the denial, saying that it violated the defendant’s due process rights under the 14th Amendment.
In response to a federal court order to integrate schools, Gov. Orval Faubus stations the Arkansas National Guard outside Central High School in Little Rock to prevent nine African American students from entering. The students are taken through a side door, angering protesters. Fearing an out-of-control mob, authorities remove the students. Two days later, the students enter the school under the protection of the 101st Airborne Division, ordered there by President Dwight Eisenhower.
The first civil rights law enacted since 1875, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 authorizes creation of a Civil Rights Division and a Civil Rights Commission to enforce all federal civil rights laws, to coordinate the enforcement of civil rights, and to investigate complaints of civil rights violations. In 1960, the Civil Rights Act penalizes any person who prevents another individual from registering to vote or voting.
In NAACP v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that when Alabama state officials demanded that the NAACP hand over its membership list, the members’ right of “free association” was violated. Although no such right is specifically included in the First Amendment, the Court says it is a necessary extension of the rights to free speech and free assembly: “It is beyond debate that freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas is an inseparable aspect of the ‘liberty’ assured by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which embraces freedom of speech.”
In Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds North Carolina’s requirement that all voters pass a literacy test to be qualified to vote. Finding that the rule is consistent with the 14th, 15th and 17th Amendments, the Court rules that the states have long been held to have broad powers to determine the conditions under which voting rights may be exercised.
Although the Court notes that state standards cannot be discriminatory or go against any restriction that Congress has imposed, it finds that states may reasonably impose requirements based on residence, age, and criminal record. Similarly, the Court holds, a state may consider the ability to read and write in determining the qualifications of voters.
Building on its earlier decision in Baker v. Carr and reversing South v. Peters, the U.S. Supreme Court in Gray v. Sanders finds that Georgia’s “county unit” voting system is unconstitutional. Relying in part on the 17th Amendment’s language that senators are to be chosen “by the people,” a voter in the Senate primary election challenges the system in which small rural districts are treated relatively the same as larger urban districts.
Because each rural voter would have the same impact as several urban voters, the rural voters had a much larger impact on the outcome of the election than urban voters. Writing for the majority of the Court, Justice William O. Douglas finds that this policy violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
In Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously extends to state court trials the rule it established for federal court trials nearly 30 years earlier in Johnson v. Zerbst: The Sixth and 14th Amendments guarantee indigent defendants the right to have an attorney appointed, at the government’s expense, if they are charged with a serious crime. In 1972, in Argersinger v. Hamlin, the Court will extend the Gideon rule to defendants charged with a misdemeanor and facing jail time.
In Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, the owners of a large motel in Atlanta, Ga., which restricts its clientele to white people, three-fourths of whom are transient interstate travelers, ask the courts to stop the enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The hotel owners says Congress does not have the power to prohibit racial discrimination in places of public accommodation because neither the 13th, 14th, nor the 15th Amendment authorizes Congress to regulate private action. The owners also argue that the commerce clause (the phrase in the Constitution that gives Congress the power to regulate business transactions across state lines) does not include behavior such as this. In an important civil rights case, the Court here upholds the Civil Rights Act by finding that Congress can regulate hotels since interstate travel is “commerce.” At the same time, the Court finds that the race discrimination at issue here does not violate either the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause or the 13th Amendment’s prohibition on “involuntary servitude.”
In a companion case, Katzenbach v. McClung, restaurant owners challenge the power to prohibit discrimination in their establishments. Relying on its decision in Heart of Atlanta Motel, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Civil Rights Act finding that restaurants participate in interstate commerce.
In Kent v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that juvenile offenders are entitled to a full hearing before their criminal case can be transferred from the juvenile justice system to the adult justice system. In so doing, the Court recognizes that juveniles accused of a crime need as many procedural protections in the justice system as adults do. The Court reaffirms this idea two years later, in another case involving the due process rights of a juvenile facing a sentence in a detention facility.
In Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, the U.S. Supreme Court overrules its decision in Breedlove v. Suttles, declaring that the use of a poll tax at state elections is unconstitutional. The Court holds that such “invidious discrimination” based on economic status violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. As a result of this ruling and the earlier passage of the 24th Amendment, poll taxes cannot be used in either federal or state elections.
In Elfbrandt v. Russell, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates an Arizona law requiring state employees to take a loyalty oath. Anyone who took the oath and then became a member of the Communist Party or any other group that advocated the violent overthrow of the government could be prosecuted for perjury and fired. The Court says the law violates the due process clause by infringing on the right of free association. The Court holds that the law is too broad by punishing a person who joins a group that has both legal and illegal purposes but does not subscribe to the illegal purpose.
The U.S. Supreme Court decides In re Gault, holding that juveniles possess the standard constitutional guarantees of due process. Previously, the juvenile justice system withheld constitutional protections routinely afforded adults. The Court finds that juvenile proceedings must be in line with the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.
In Moore v. Ogilvie, an Illinois statute that requires new political parties and their candidates to gather 25,000 signatures, including 200 each from at least 50 of the state’s 102 counties, is challenged. Since the state’s population is not equally distributed throughout the counties of the state, requiring an equal number of signatures raises questions of fairness and equality. In a reversal of South v. Peters (1950), the Court rules that the Illinois law violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
The U.S. Supreme Court decides in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education that busing is allowed to desegregate public schools and remedy past discrimination.
In Reed v. Reed, the U.S. Supreme Court, for the first time, says a state law that treats men and women differently violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. The Idaho law gave automatic preference to men to become an administrator of a will. The plaintiffs had argued that the long history of discrimination against women required the Court to view sex discrimination the same way it treats race discrimination. The state should be required to justify any differing treatment with the most compelling reasons.
Although the Court finds that women are entitled to equal protection under the 14th Amendment, it refuses to extend a higher level of legal protection as it has in race discrimination cases. Nevertheless, the Court finds that the Idaho statute is unreasonable and thus unconstitutional. For the next five years, the Court will struggle with how to decide the constitutionality of laws that treated women differently.
In Rabe v. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (which guarantees the right to a fair hearing that follows the rules) is violated when a state law fails to explain exactly what conduct is prohibited. In Rabe, the defendant was convicted under Washington’s obscenity law after he showed an X-rated movie at his drive-in theater. The trial court concluded that the movie was not technically “obscene.” However, the fact that the movie was shown at a drive-in – making it visible to viewers other than consenting adults – made it illegal. The justices reverse the conviction, finding that the state’s obscenity law makes no distinction between obscene material that is shown in private and material that is shown in public.
Although this case does not directly involve a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to be informed of charges, it shows the importance of people having a right to know what conduct is considered criminal.
In this challenge to the Texas property tax scheme that meant that schools in low-income areas received significantly less per-pupil funding than higher-income areas, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that the disparate funding does not violate the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. In San Antonio v. Rodriguez, the Court holds that education is not a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution and thus the state need only provide a rational reason to support its policy. After this decision, legal challenges to differences in educational funding are brought under state constitutions in state courts with varying results.
Relying on Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits race and ethnicity-based discrimination, the U.S. Supreme Court in Lau v. Nichols requires schools to take “affirmative steps” to overcome language barriers impeding children’s access to the curriculum.
In Richardson v. Ramirez, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that California’s state constitutional provision that denies the right to vote to convicted felons does not violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution. Interpreting the lesser known second clause of the 14th Amendment, the Court reasons that the framers could not have intended the clause to prohibit such laws if they excluded felons from being counted when figuring congressional representation. Today, most states have differing policies on felon voting rights: Some states permanently deny convicted felons the right to vote; others suspend voting rights during incarceration or for a specified period after release from prison.
In Hampton v. Mow Sun Wong, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a Civil Service Commission rule that barred noncitizens, including resident aliens (foreigners who live here), from holding civil service jobs violates the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause. Although recognizing that national interests may justify a citizenship requirement for certain jobs, the Court finds that the Civil Service Commission does not have the authority to deprive an entire class of individuals – resident aliens – from making a living. The Court relies in part on earlier decisions that found that state rules depriving resident aliens from working for state government violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
After her husband of less than six months died, a woman sought Social Security insurance benefits for herself and her daughter by a previous marriage. The Social Security Administration denied the request on the basis of a duration-of-relationship requirement in the law, which required that a “widow” and “child” have a relationship with the wage earner for more than nine months before his death. They sued, claiming that the rule violated their rights under the Fifth Amendment. In Weinberger v. Salfi, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that the equal protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment are applicable to the federal government here through the Fifth Amendment, but that social welfare legislation like this is constitutional if Congress acted rationally and there was no arbitrary or invidious discrimination. Here, the duration-of-relationship rule made sense to avoid potentially fraudulent claims.
In Craig v. Boren, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down an Oklahoma law that allowed women, ages 18-20, to drink beer but denied young men the same right. The Court finds that discrimination based on sex is entitled to an “intermediate level of scrutiny” by the Court. This means that states are not free to discriminate based on sex. Rather, the Court holds, to withstand constitutional challenge, divisions based on sex must “serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to achievement of those objectives.” Women were still not given the same level of protection from discrimination as those affected by race discrimination, but the decision did provide meaningful protection.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is passed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1974 decision in Geduldig v. Aiello, which found that the exclusion of pregnant women from a company’s disability insurance plan was not illegal sex discrimination under the 14th Amendment. The Court holds that the distinction was only between pregnant persons and non-pregnant persons, and not based on sex. The law, which amended Title VII, ensured that employment discrimination on account of pregnancy is treated as unlawful sex-based discrimination. As a result, employers could not question potential hires about their plans to have children and had to extend benefits equally. For example, if the employer allowed workers sick time or disability for other medical conditions, they had to do so for pregnancy as well and women could not be forced to take a pregnancy leave if she is willing and able to work.
In Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court looks at the constitutionality of a Connecticut law that requires voters in any political party primary to be registered members of that party. In 1984, the Connecticut Republican Party adopted a party rule that permits independent voters – registered voters not affiliated with any party – to vote in Republican primaries for federal and statewide offices. The party then challenged the Connecticut law in federal district court on the ground that it deprives the party of its right under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to enter into political association with individuals of its own choosing.
The Supreme Court finds that the law denies the party and its members of the right to freedom of association by limiting the number of registered voters whom the party may invite to participate in the “basic function” of selecting the party’s candidates. But the Court finds that the party rule does not violate the qualifications clause of the Constitution or the 17th Amendment. The clause and the amendment are not violated by the fact that the party rule establishes qualifications for voting in congressional elections that differ from the qualifications in elections for the state legislature.
In Richmond v. J.A. Croson, the U.S. Supreme Court rejects a set-aside program in Richmond, Va., finding that it violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Thirty percent of each city construction contract must go toward services provided by minority-owned businesses. The Court finds that Richmond failed to show a compelling governmental interest for the plan. Further, the Court holds, the plan is not narrowly tailored to remedy the effects of past discrimination; it entitles minorities nationwide to preference over city citizens solely based on race.
In Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Equal Access Act is constitutional. The 1984 federal law bars a school from discriminating against any student group because its religious, philosophical or political viewpoint.
In Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., the U.S. Supreme Court rules that under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, parties in civil cases cannot use race-based peremptory challenges to reject potential jurors.
In J.E.B. v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that striking potential jurors solely because of their sex, just as with race, violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee to treat all people equally.
In United States v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court affirms that the male-only admissions policy of the state-supported Virginia Military Institute violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The lawsuit pits the federal government against the Commonwealth of Virginia over the male-only policy of the state’s Virginia Military Institute. The state built what it termed an equivalent women’s program nearby, called the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, to bypass the constitutional mandate of equal protection of the laws. However, the Court finds that the women’s program is not comparable in prestige or academic programming to VMI and orders the men’s school to admit women.
Petitioner Yaser Hamdi, a U.S. citizen whom the government has classified as an “enemy combatant” for allegedly fighting with the Taliban during the war in Afghanistan, is detained in a Navy brig. Hamdi’s father files a habeas petition on his behalf, arguing that his son is being held in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The U.S. Supreme Court says that although Congress authorized the detention of combatants in the narrow circumstances alleged in this case, due process demands that a citizen held in the United States as an enemy combatant be allowed to contest the detention before a neutral party. The Court rejects the Bush administration’s contention that the executive branch has the last word on open-ended detentions for citizens and noncitizens.
In Rasul v. Bush, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that federal courts have jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions filed by foreign detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who contend they are being unlawfully held. The Court finds that the terms of the lease on the naval base give the United States a degree of control that makes the property the functional equivalent of U.S. territory.
Eric Michael Clark, a paranoid schizophrenic, was charged with murder after he shot and killed an Arizona police officer. At his trial, Clark tried to use expert testimony to prove that he was insane and that his illness prevented him from forming the intent to shoot an officer. The judge allowed the expert testimony only on his insanity claim. The court then decided Clark had not proved his insanity defense. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. In Clark v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds Arizona’s law that does not allow the defendant to argue his illness prevents him from forming criminal intent. The Court says Clark still received due process.
In the case Timbs v. Indiana, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on excessive fines applies to state and local governments. The case involved a car owner whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized by the state of Indiana after he was arrested for selling heroin to undercover police for $400. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote: “Forfeiture of the Land Rover … would be grossly disproportionate to the gravity” of the offense. She said excessive fines undermine other liberties since they could be used to retaliate against political enemies, They also have been used as a source of revenue. The ruling means state and local governments cannot use fines to raise revenue.
In a landmark ruling in Gary B. v. Whitmer, a federal appeals court says that children have a constitutional right to literacy. Students in five Detroit schools sued the state of Michigan, saying that teacher shortages, out-of-date textbooks and deteriorating buildings prevented them from learning to read. The ability to read and write is “essential” for a citizen to participate in American democracy, according to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. It said the Detroit students had been deprived of an adequate education, violating the 14th Amendment.
The U.S. Supreme Court decides, in a 6-3 ruling, that the 1964 Civil Rights Act barring sex discrimination in the workplace protects LGBTQ employees from being fired because of their sexual orientation. The Court’s decision comes in several cases brought by gay and transgender employees.
The Trump administration argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act did not extend to claims of gender identity and sexual orientation.