Fourteenth Amendment | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Procedural Law

The Fourteenth Amendment is an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that prohibits states from violating people’s due process rights.

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1868, is a crucial legal instrument that protects the individual rights of citizens against government infringement. It is considered one of the most important amendments in the Constitution because it extends fundamental rights and protections to all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. The Fourteenth Amendment is composed of several clauses, but its most well-known provisions are the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ensures that individuals are not deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. This clause is an extension of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which applies only to the federal government. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to state governments, and it prohibits them from violating an individual’s fundamental rights without due process of law.

The Due Process Clause has been used to protect a wide range of individual rights, including the right to a fair trial, the right to counsel, and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It has also been used to protect substantive rights, such as the right to privacy, the right to marry, and the right to access to abortion [formerly].

The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is another critical component of the amendment. It prohibits states from denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. This clause was enacted to protect the civil rights of African Americans in the aftermath of the Civil War, and it has been used to strike down discriminatory laws and policies based on race, ethnicity, and gender.

The Equal Protection Clause has been instrumental in a variety of landmark cases, including Brown v. Board of Education, which declared segregation in public schools unconstitutional, and Loving v. Virginia, which struck down laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The clause has also been used to challenge discriminatory practices in housing, employment, and voting rights.

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Last Modified: 04/25/2023


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