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U.S. News
14: Equal protection under law and due process of law

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


America's slaves were free, but not free to be Americans. In 1868 a new amendment gave black Americans, and anyone else for that matter, rights equal to those whose families had enjoyed citizenship for generations. It guaranteed equal protection under the law for all: immigrants, new citizens, former slaves, resident aliens. No one could be left out. And it gave the federal government sweeping powers to enforce them.

Reaction varied. Speaking before a Virginia convention in 1867, delegate Thomas Bayne remarked: "And so shall the colored people and the loyal white men of Virginia say, in one chorus, sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish, we are together, one and indivisible and inseparable, for the procuring and perpetuation of civil and political rights to all men, of whatever shade or color of skin."

That same year, Robert M. Patton, governor of Alabama, said the new amendment "would give to the United States courts complete and unlimited jurisdiction over every conceivable case, however important or however trivial, which could arise under state laws."

For Abhinav Maddipati, born Aug. 9 at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh, the amendment guarantees the full rights of a U.S. citizen. It is uncharted territory for his father, Chakravarthy Maddipati and mother, Sirisha Mahankali. His name, after all, is Sanskrit for "a new idea." Abhinav and his parents might someday share citizenship. Mahankali and her husband, both born in India and physicians in training at Mercy Hospital, are thinking about applying after a few years. "Do I like him being a citizen?" she asks. "Yes. It's a really great country. That's why we are here."

Amendment XIV:

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, , 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.

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