Saturday, January 14, 2012

Remembering the 14th Amendment on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday

 Text of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the
United States of America

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

During the 2010 election cycle, Civil Rights came under attack from the Tea Party and right wing of the Republican party as part of their racist attack on immigrants. This occurred shortly after Arizona's SB 1070 allowed police officers to racially profile people and question them for their papers, and arrest those who could not produce adequate, on-the spot documentation. Many people running on the Tea Party ticket, as well as mainstream Republicans like John McCain then began calling for repeal of the 14th Amendment, because it allowed people born on US soil to be citizens. They said that because of this Amendment, people were coming to the US to have babies that would be citizens. They also came up with a mad idea terrorists were coming to the US and having babies that were citizens, that these babies would be trained to be terrorists, and then, years in the future, that Al Qaeda would have a strong-hold on US soil... all because of that pesky 14th Amendment, that just had to go! (It was also noticed, later, that many of the AZ representatives who had introduced and voted for this bill were stake holders in private, for-profit prisons which at the time were mostly empty. Filling them up with suspected illegal immigrants awaiting trial generated great profits for the prisons and those who supported them)

Well, a look at the 14th Amendment shows that, while the Citizenship Clause is a part of the 14th Amendment, it also is the basis of many of our basic rights, blocking the government from legislating racism in many ways. It is my opinion that while the Tea Partiers were talking about the Citizenship Clause, their intention was to roll back all protection of our 'minority' citizens, and begin to move power back to the white men of the nation.

There are a number of very important clauses in the Amendment. The most important, perhaps, is the Equal Protection Clause:

"no state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

This simple statement was the basis for the major Civil Rights cases, such as 'Brown v. The Board of Education,' which put an end to 'Plessy v. Ferguson,' which, for the greater part of a century, had been the basis of the segregation laws that prevented whites and non-whites from going to school together, sitting in the same restaurants, using the same bathrooms and so forth. Without this clause, we could again see states choosing to limit the people to whom they offer services, and allowing businesses to discriminate.

This second intention was made clear in the campaign of Rand Paul and others who said, straight-out, they they would like to roll back some of the provisions of the Civil Rights Act itself, saying that the section which prevents businesses from discriminating against their clientele limited the rights of businesses. Rand Paul stated that he felt the government had no right to tell businesses that they had to treat everyone equally.

While this, as simply a discussion of logic and the limits of government, might make some sense to some people, let's look at the practical implications.

Do you remember the Walmart discrimination cases? And the Denny's case?

Walmart has been cited in any number of lawsuits involving discriminatory practices; first, against their employees, when Walmart routinely would promote white employees over 'minority' employees who had the same performance rating, seniority and training. Walmart also locked minority employees in the stores until the finished their assigned duties, and refused to pay them overtime if their scheduled sifts did not allow adequate time to complete their assigned tasks. There is also a current case which cites Walmart for spying on African American patients in clinics that had contracts with their stores. Denny's had to pay out some 54 million dollars as a result of multiple lawsuits that alleged that at their restaurants, there was a policy of paying more attention to and giving better service to white customers that non whites.

These are just two examples of companies who have demonstrated discriminatory practices in a world where discrimination is a crime. Without the Equal Protection Clause, it would be much more rampant.

The "Due Process Clause"

"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Remember the days of Lynching?

Before widespread enforcement of the 14th Amendment, beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, white people accused of a crime were given a trial by jury, and served their terms, if found guilty, in a prison facility. Non-whites were dragged out of their homes and hung by their necks, with only the jury of public opinion and mob mentality.

This was illustrated in the case of Leo Frank:

He was an factory superintendent at a sweat-shop in Atlanta. One day, Mary Phagen, a 13-year-old employee, came by the factory to pick up her check. She was brutally raped and murdered. Since Frank was Jewish, the people of Atlanta immediately suspected him, even though there was considerable evidence that another man who was in the factory that day had committed the crime. There was a trial. During the trial, the jurors were paraded across the street each day. Their pictures and names were in the paper. Crowds gathered outside the courthouse each day calling for Frank to be lynched. They threatened the jurors and their families with violence if Frank was not convicted. After the trial, Frank was quickly convicted, and sentenced to death.  The governor, having weighed the evidence, commuted Frank's sentence, changing it to life in prison. He was sent to a prison in Marietta, GA, while appeals were being drafted. There, Frank was dragged out of prison by a lynch mob, spurned on by Tom Watson, and hung from the branch of a tree. People celebrated the lynching, and took pieces of his clothing and his body as souvenirs.

There were also calls for the lynching of the governor who commented his sentence, and the National Guard had to protect the governor's mansion from the large lynch mob.

"The Incorporation Clause"

"nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Prior to this Amendment, the case of Barron v. Brooklyn (1833) held that The Bill of Rights applied only to cases of federal jurisdiction, and that states did not need to follow it. While there are several aspects of The Bill of Rights that have been excluded from applying to states in subsequent cases, states no longer have the rights to deny their citizens protections outlined in The Constitution. This far-sweeping clause insures that all people have the right to free speech, the free practice of religion, due process, and so on.

Without the enforcement of this aspect of the Amendment, we witnessed Southern states creating their own policies, in regard to segregation, that defied national precedence; such as when Arkansas refused to integrate their schools, resulting in "The Little Rock Nine" incident.

In 1957, nine African-American students attempted to go to school at the segregated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Knowing they were coming, the governor of the state, attempting to uphold Arkansas's segregation laws, and refusing to acknowledge the Brown v. The Board of Education ruling, called out the National Guard to prevent these students from coming to school. There was a riot, with people calling for the lynching of the students as they tried to enter the school. They were turned away, after being harassed and abused. President Eisenhower, upholding the ruling, sent military troops to Arkansas to force the issue. The students were picked up in military vehicles, preceded and followed by armed soldiers. Once at school, they were escorted through the day by paratroopers, who ensured their protection and the incorporation of The Constitution by the state of Arkansas.

This is another big area the Tea Party would love to delete from the Constitution.

States rights people refuse to accept this, and other lessons of history which show the importance of laws from a central government. Certainly it can argued that The Civil Rights laws of the 1960s resulted in the creation of a greater central government. Again, while one can make an intellectual argument for the sovereignty of states, there are clear lessons, such as the one above, in which states have violated peoples' rights because it is a cultural norm in their own states.

As the Republicans continue to attack the rights of minorities and the poor, it is clear that incorporation of  Constitutional rights by the states is imperative in the protection of those who do not hold power.

"The Citizenship Claus" 

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

It is clear, also, to see that The Citizenship Clause itself, which the right wing tried to make controversial, is crucial in allowing rights to be applied to those born within the US. Without it, such as during the pre-Civil War years, African Americans or others could be denied citizenship, and therefore the rights that come with being a citizen. It took until the 1920s for Asian, Latino, Native Americans and others to receive citizenship  in the first place. Do we really, less than 100 years later, to establish a precedence to deny anyone citizenship once again? The sad truth is that there are those who do. As the way of life of white Americans is once again coming under a challenge of sorts, with the undeniable, mathematical reality that whites will soon be in the minority, there are those who are trying to cement their place as the power-brokers of the country and deny it to 'minority' groups. This is a threat as real and frightening to people as was the end of segregation.

Other Civil Right implications of the 14th Amendment are in Section 2, which gives assures all men (Women received the right to vote in 1920, and Native Americans, who are excluded in the 14th Amendment, were given citizenship in 1924, and those Amendments and Acts supersede the 14th Amendment...) were given the right to vote, and that they were counted in the apportionment of representatives in congress.

Other provisions of the 14th Amendment establish actions against rebellion, and establish who will pay off debts after rebellion and the validity of public debt. These would comprise an additional essay.

So, I think it is clear to see that the repealing of the 14th Amendment would be many gigantic steps backwards. This Amendment must be protected. I consider it one of the most important Amendments of all. Much of Dr. King's work was directly involved with pushing for the enforcement of this Amendment. His practice of non-violent resistance centered around testing the provisions of 14th Amendment over an over, (such as by sit-ins at whites-only lunch counters) suffering the violence that resulted (being beaten by those enraged at seeing non-whites at said lunch counter) and arrests, and doing it all over again the next day. By being non-violent they allowed the light of public opinion to be shown specifically on the violation of rights, and these repeated violations made clear the lack of enforcement of Constitutional Rights.

The Tea Party and the right wing of this country have created a pretense of worshipping The Constitution, but at the same time, trying to rape it, and undo the protections it provides (Civil Rights) while pushing for the rights they desire (right to carry weapons and states rights.) They interpret The Constitution much as they do The Bible, looking at the letter of the law, without looking at the intent of the law; while at the same time interpreting it in a narrow light that highlights those things they see meaningful (the devil is mentioned in passing only three times in The Bible, and only once in The New Testament) while discarding those things they dislike (love is mentioned 64,015 times in The Bible, 5453 times in The New Testament.)

As they look upon Ayn Rand's Objectivism with wet-dream lust; her stark, post-apocalyptic images of laissez-faire capitalism and anarchic government, "every man for himself" (Ronald Reagan and Paul Ryan are two people, among many, who have said they went into politics inspired by "Atlas Shrugged") much like those who framed The Soviet Union, who killed millions in order to push forth their vision of 'equality,' these Tea Party activists are misguided by a vision of a utopia which exists only in novels of the 1950s, which play into their selfish struggles to attain personal power at the expense of others.

"All Men are Created Equal" is a basic foundation of our country, which the right would also love to strike from the record. Martin Luther King, Jr. is great because he devoted his short life to this, simple truth. He selflessly pursued the dream of equality through many heroic acts, which were as simple as walking from Selma to Montgomery.

Here is another view of life without the 14th Amendment. This is the voters-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, during which the marchers were stopped by state troopers at the Alabama state line, and then attacked, unprovoked, the marchers on a day known as Bloody Sunday. The next march was led by Dr. King. They were again stopped by state troopers. The marchers knelt and prayed, and they then turned around and went back. On the third attempt, they had a military escort who cleared the way, and were able to get to Montgomery. This all for voters rights, which were ensured by the 14th Amendment, but which states, like Alabama, refused to incorporate.


The result of this march was the Voter's Rights Act of 1964. Now, even though equality was far from being assured, all adults had the right to vote, and now had a say in who was elected, and in the laws of the country.

The events illustrated in the events outlined above are only about a single Amendment to The Constitution, and not the far-sweeping implications of The Civil Rights Acts and The Voter's Rights Act. If anyone doubts the potential energy of The Occupy movement, this should be enough evidence to show how a country's paradigm can be shifted through collective, selfless action. Of course the catalyst for this action were people like Martin Luther King. 

So, as we celebrate Martin Luther King day, let us not forget how the world used to be, and what the world could be like again if some of the misguided elements of power continue to take hold in our country. 

And, of course, there is only one way to wrap up a tribute to our nation's greatest, unelected leader:


  1. Lynching hasn't ended. Neither has slavery.

  2. While these practices have not ended, the difference is that with the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments being widely enforced, they are punishable crimes, rather than accepted practices.