Although one of James Madison’s original amendments would have applied the Bill of Rights to the states, the Senate rejected it on the grounds that the states protect rights in their own constitutions. In the case of Barron v. Baltimore (1833), the Supreme Court reiterates this by arguing that the Fifth Amendment and other portions of the Bill of Rights apply only to the federal government.
A group of butchers in New Orleans sue when the state gives monopoly rights to a single slaughterhouse. In a 5-to-4 decision, the justices rule in the Slaughterhouse Cases that the due process and equal protection provisions of the amendment do not limit state powers to regulate business. The dissenters on the Court argue for a broader interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment as a safeguard against state violations of personal rights and due process.
Concerned about increasing state regulation, corporations seek to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in the Slaughterhouse Cases. Former U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling, who had been one of the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment, argues in San Mateo County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company that the Amendment’s phrase “any person” also applies to a corporation. Therefore, the county’s efforts at regulation violate the railroad’s right to “substantive due process.” The Court accepts this line of reasoning, frustrating state and federal governments’ efforts to regulate business practices for the next half century.
In response to efforts in the southern states to segregate people by race — “Jim Crow” laws and practices — Congress passes the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which guarantees equal rights to all citizens in all public places. When African Americans are denied equal accommodations they sue, but in 1883 the Supreme Court rules that the Fourteenth Amendment deals with discrimination by the states, not by individuals. Then in Plessy v. Ferguson, the Court upholds a Louisiana law that segregates railroad cars, reasoning that if the law provides equal accommodations it does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.
For decades, the Supreme Court strikes down reforms designed to aid women and children workers on the grounds that these laws impair the freedom of contract under the Fourteenth Amendment. After California enacts a minimum wage for women workers, Elsie Parrish sues a hotel company for paying her less than this minimum wage. The Supreme Court upholds the state law by noting that the Constitution does not mention the freedom of contract, that all liberties are subject to due process, and that employers and employees are not equally free when it comes to negotiating work agreements.
Since Plessy v. Ferguson, the courts have accepted racial segregation as long as all races are treated equally. In many states, schools for whites and African Americans are separate but far from equal in funding and equipment. In Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court concludes that school segregation denies students the equal protection of the laws. The Court orders schools to integrate “with all deliberate speed.”
In many state legislatures, rural districts have far fewer voters than densely packed urban districts, yet each district has the same number of representatives. In Baker v. Carr, the U.S. Supreme Court orders federal courts to consider suits that challenge the apportionment of state legislatures, arguing that legislative bodies that are not apportioned equally violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. All legislative bodies (except the U.S. Senate) are held to a standard of one person, one vote, so that all districts in a legislative body must represent roughly the same number of constituents.
When a man in Florida is convicted after being denied an attorney — because he cannot afford to hire one — he petitions the Supreme Court. The case Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) results in a ruling in which the Court asserts that the Fourteenth Amendment embraces the fundamental principles of liberty and justice that lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black reasons that the due process provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment mean that the states are not immune from the Bill of Rights.
In striking down a Connecticut law that prohibits the sale of contraceptives, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Griswold v. Connecticut, cites the Fourteenth Amendment as one of the amendments supporting its decision that the Constitution gives Americans a right to privacy.
As citizens of the United States, Puerto Ricans who moved to New York State seek to vote, but the state requires them to pass an English-language literacy test. Some file suit on the grounds that this law violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In Katzenbach v. Morgan, the Supreme Court cites the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause in upholding the Voting Rights Act, and stipulates that those who have achieved at least a sixth-grade education in Puerto Rico cannot be denied the right to vote.
The U.S. government believes that Yaser Esam Hamdi, an American citizen, has taken up arms to support the Taliban, the radical regime in Afghanistan. After U.S. forces overthrow the Taliban, Hamdi is seized and detained in Guantanamo Bay, and later transferred to a prison in Charleston, South Carolina. By calling Hamdi an enemy combatant, the Defense Department asserts that it can hold him indefinitely without trial. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the U.S. Supreme Court disagrees, finding that due process demands that any U.S. citizen held in the United States be given a meaningful opportunity to contest the basis for that detention.
In a 5-to-4 decision in the case of Roper v. Simmons, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that executing juveniles who were under eighteen at the time they committed a capital crime is a violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The majority cites “evolving” social attitudes in the United States, where thirty states have banned the execution of juveniles, and around the world, where all but five other nations have also prohibited it.