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The 14th Amendment v. The Federal Government

How the 14th Amendment is Redefining States’ Rights

What do Brown v. Board of Education, Obergefell v. Hodges, and Roe v. Wade all have in common?  Each case was decided by either the Due Process Cause or the Equal Protection Cause which both fall under the 14th Amendment.  Additionally, these issues originally fell under the jurisdiction of the states.  Education, marriage, and abortion were interpreted as states’ rights because under the 10th Amendment “…powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution…are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” However, as the Supreme Court illustrated in the above cases morality and the changing social landscape have evoked both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to interpret these controversial social issues.  This amendment override is redefining states’ rights and the role that the federal government and the Supreme Court have involving states’ rights.

The 14th Amendment was passed as part of the Reconstruction Amendments, which were ratified following the Civil War.  Along with the 13th and 15th Amendments, the 14th Amendment was written to give African Americans the same legal rights and freedoms as their white counterparts.  It was not until 1968 during Brown v. Board of Education though, that the 14th Amendment, specifically the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause, began to be used by the Supreme Court to reflect the changing social landscape of America.

The ruling in Brown v. Board of Education ended racial segregation in schools.  The ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges gave same-sex couples the right to marriage and the legal benefits that marriage entails.  Roe v. Wade’s ruling maintained that women were entitled to the right of privacy in regards to having an abortion under the due process clause.  These Supreme Court cases all illustrate how social issues that were predominantly considered states’ issues became federal law because under the 14th Amendment all citizens are entitled to “citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws.”

Why does this matter though?  This is significant because it reflects how the Supreme Court is able to redefine the role of the state and states’ rights, especially in regards to controversial issues, through one amendment.  The original intention of the 14th Amendment was not necessarily to enact laws concerning prevailing social norms rather it was for all American citizens, regardless of race, to be afforded the same legal rights.  

However, in modern America, certain issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion were brought to the Supreme Court because many felt that these issues were legal rights owed to all United States’ citizens. The Court viewed this reasoning, under the 14th Amendment, as valid which is why they ruled in favor of desegregation, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage.  These rulings illustrate how certain controversial issues, which have previously been viewed as states’ rights issues, have been determined on the federal level to define citizens’ rights.

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