The 14th Amendment: Know Your Rights

*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.

If you have Netflix there is an amazing new limited docuseries called Amend: The Fight for America produced by Larry Wilmore and Will Smith and hosted by Smith. It’s a six -part documentary series about the 14th Amendment and the struggles this particular amendment has faced since it was ratified in 1868.

It has an amazing cast reading quotes from famous people such as Frederick Douglass played by two-time Oscar winner, Mahershala Ali; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. played by Oscar nominee, Samuel L. Jackson; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg played by Emmy winner, Samira Wiley; Abraham Lincoln played Pedro Pascal; and Robert F Kennedy played by Randall Park, as well as many others.

Not only do we get to hear voices from the past from the mouths of these incredibly talented actors, but we also get to hear from some of the greatest legal and activist minds of our time. Among these incredible minds are Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative; David Blight, Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian; Vanita Gupta, Associate Attorney General nominee; Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at the University of California Los Angeles and Columbia University; Dr. Khalil Muhammad, professor of history, race, and public policy at Harvard University; Garrett Epps, professor of law at the University of Baltimore; and a myriad of others.

Throughout the six-part series, these experts break down the 14th Amendment and how it was constantly ignored, abused, and twisted to fit an agenda of white supremacy practically from the day it was ratified.

For those of you who don’t know what the 14th Amendment is, here is what it says in section I:

“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.”

Seems pretty straight forward right? And yet for 135 politicians and courts have found ways to twist this remarkably simple narrative that states that all persons, let me reiterate that – ALL PERSONS – have the right to due process of law and shall not be deprived of life, life, liberty, or property without it, nor can they be denied equal protect under the law.

What happened, in actuality was that women and people of color were made to be less than a person, and therefore the 14th Amendment didn’t apply to them. We saw this over and over again in court case after court case.

The learned experts in the show talk about all the cases, the good, the bad, and the ugly, that happened in the United States. The ones that set us back hundreds of years like the Dred Scott decision where the Supreme Court decided that the constitution was not meant to include black people, and Plessy v. Ferguson which upheld the idea of racial segregation in 1892, completely ignoring the Fourteenth Amendment. But they also talk about the landmark decisions that helped the country such as Brown v. Board of Education which started the desegregation of schools, Loving v. Virginia which ruled that laws banning interracial marriage violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution., Roe v. Wade which ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction, and Obergefell v. Hodges which ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples by both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

One of the great things about Amend as a documentary is that it acknowledges, not only early on in the series but throughout the series, that just because rights are granted on paper doesn’t always translate to immediate changes in reality, especially when politicians, governments, and courts assert their own interpretation of the law. And it lets us know, that we the people, have to stand up and use our voices and our rights to keep the Fourteenth Amendment working us. After all, it was written to protect US.