The 14th amendment is under attack because it is essential for racial justice
The 14th amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are two of the most important civil rights protections in our nation. The 14th amendment has been cited in more litigation than any other amendment – including landmark cases such as Brown v Board of Education. But recent racist attacks on these civil rights policies show that they are still vulnerable to erosion even after all these years.
After the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in the 2013 Shelby County v Holder decision, extremists have now set their sights on policies, such as the 14th Amendment, that offer protection to communities of color.
Ratified in 1868, the 14th Amendment granted citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” and endowed all such citizens with the rights of due process and equal protection of the law. The amendment was passed explicitly to clarify the citizenship of the millions of African-Americans emancipated from slavery through the passage of the 13th Amendment. Overnight, the law redefined who was considered an American citizen.
The 14th Amendment is not a relic of the past – people of color continue to receive protections under the statute. The amendment has been grounds for rulings in cases ranging from search and seizure protections to marriage equality. It has been asserted in challenges to school discipline policies that funnel students of color into the prison system. It is among the current provisions used to challenge attacks on the right to vote for voters of color in states like North Carolina, where extremist state legislators undermined access to the ballot at every stage of the electoral process. The 14th Amendment is an enduring and essential instrument to secure and protect racial justice.
Any attack on the 14th Amendment is an affront to history and compromises the rights of African-Americans. Yet the measure does not only provide protection for African-Americans. In recent years conservative pundits and politicians are assailing the 14th Amendment because it provides protections for children of undocumented parents.
In 2010, during the peak of debate over Arizona’s discriminatory immigration law, Lindsey Graham joined other leading Republicans in calling for Senate hearings to explore slashes to 14th Amendment protections. Graham is now among a cast of backward-thinking presidential candidates taking aim at the amendment as a tactic to devalue the rights of immigrants of color and dehumanize aspiring Americans. It is unconscionable that a measure used to protect the human dignity of people of color is now being called into question.
With over a year remaining in the presidential election cycle, it’s as if conservative candidates are already in an all-out sprint to be more hateful than the next – exchanging sparring definitions of the slur “anchor babies” in disputes over citizenship. Spewing hyperbolic rhetoric to evoke white racial fear, Donald Trump has relentlessly attempted to undermine the citizenship of the children of immigrants, predominantly Latinos. His leading challenger on the Republican side, Jeb Bush, has pushed the debate to take unfounded aim at the children of Asian-Americans. This rhetoric distracts from a substantive debate on policies that can create fair pathways to citizenship for aspiring Americans, and flippantly devalues millions of first-generation Americans.
Ultimately, attacks on the 14th Amendment disregard America’s history of racial injustice and weaken our ability to live up to the core American values of freedom and equality for all.
The sweeping racism of these attacks presents an opportune moment for collective organizing among communities of color. Now is the time to demand equal protection across generations and races and policies that respect our history. We need leaders who will fight for our future.
Attacking the 14th Amendment is an asinine tactic that promotes hate and exclusion. Protecting it can be our united stand to advance equal justice and inclusion. Its history proves that the 14th Amendment is a critical protection for all communities of color – that’s why we must protect its future.